The big news in gifts over the past few years has been gift cards, credit card-like gift certificates, often tied to a particular retailer. One survey, via Payments News, has it that gift cards have passed traditional gifts in the preferences of U.S. consumers:
Picking out just the right gift for oneself proved an important feature of gift cards among consumers according to the Blackhawk Network survey, with 88 percent of respondents stating “I can get what I want” as the number one reason they like receiving gift cards.
Similarly, 73 percent of gift givers stated their primary reason for purchasing gift cards as “I want the person receiving the gift to get what he or she wants.”
Other reasons consumers choose gift cards include eliminating worry about getting the wrong item (52 percent), the convenience of not having to find a specific gift (40 percent) and sticking to a budget (26 percent), according to the survey.
That all sounds great, right? There’s a little hitch, though: according to this Associated Press article (via kottke), consumers will buy but not use $4.8 billion dollars’ worth of gift cards this year:
Shoppers across America have millions of gift cards tucked away in envelopes, drawers and wallets. And some of the nation’s largest retailers are profiting as a result. […]
About 6 percent, or $4.8 billion, of this year’s gift cards will go unused, estimated Laura Lane, vice president of unclaimed property services for Keane Co., a compliance and risk management consulting firm.
Consumer Reports put the figure even higher, estimating that 19 percent of those who received cards last year had not used them because the cards were lost or expired.
“It can add up to significant dollars,” Lane said. “I think the message to consumers is: use it or regift it.”
Even if you do use the cards eventually, they can carry (that’s right, our old friend) hidden fees and penalties, especially if you don’t use them within the first year. This earlier AP article has a decent summary of things to look out for; and Mouse Print (via Consumerist) has a great roundup on fees for Wells Fargo-issued gift cards.
This New York Times article from last year offers another solution: it lists ways to trade in gift cards for cash. Some of the sites mentioned in the Times article:
Don’t let that money go to waste! Focus on buying people things they actually want. If you decide you want to get a gift card, maybe one from a bank or credit card company would be a better choice, since then at least it’s not tied to a specific store, and can be used anywhere they would normally use a credit card. Better yet, if you’re not sure what to get someone, donate that money to a charity on their behalf, rather than donating it to a retailer in the form of a gift card they may not use.