Gift Cards- The Good, The Bad And When To Actually Gift One

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You are about to buy a gift card but wondering if it is better to buy an actual gift? You are not alone!

Each year consumers spend billions of dollars buying gift cards and the number keeps growing. Check out the stats below-

Gift Card Statistics

No wonder every imaginable store sells a gift card today.  They seem convenient and far better than a cringe-worthy last-minute gift idea. But do gift cards make good gifts?

The following will help you make that decision. Make sure you read till the end to find out when are gift cards considered an appropriate gift and how much you should ideally put on a gift card.

Are Gift Cards A Good Gift Idea

Like anything else, even gift cards have both advantages and disadvantages that make them an ideal or not so ideal gift.

5 Advantages Of Giving A Gift Card

Below are some compelling reasons to buy gift cards-

1. A Last-Minute ‘Better Than Nothing’ Gift

I am sure I am not the only one who has found themselves in a sticky situation where I either forgot to buy a gift for someone (yes it has happened) or was extended a last-minute invite to a party – Are you coming to John’s party? It is his last day at work today.

You get the point! In situations when you really don’t have a chance to put thought and effort into buying a proper gift, a gift card can be a lifesaver.

2. Well Thought Gift Cards Are Always Appreciated

Gift cards get a bad rap for being less memorable. But a gift card can also be a memorable gift if it is ideal for the recipient and serves a greater purpose than a physical gift.

For instance, on the wedding anniversary of our friends, we gifted a hotel gift card to a place they had been planning to visit for some time. Their faces lit up as they opened the gift card attached to the handwritten note.

Not only did the gift stood out but they were also thankful for the thoughtful gift. The best part is that they remember us whenever they talk about that vacation.

Should You Really Give A Gift Card As A Gift?

3.When You Don’t Know What To Buy For Them

Gift cards are also good when you know which stores people like, but not sure what they like from the store. It does take the guesswork out of the equation and saves the giver any disappointment of giving a bad gift.

Suggested: Reacting To Unwanted Gifts And What Can You Do About It

For instance, you know they want to buy Nike shoes but you don’t know which one and their size. Instead of buying the wrong type and the wrong size, it is better to give a gift card that saves the recipient the hassle of returning the gift at the store.

They will be no less thrilled to receive a gift card than if you actually wrapped the shoes in a gift box.

4. The Convenience.

It is so much easier to buy and send a gift card – purchase it in the store or online, deliver it by mail or via email- they really are as convenient as it gets. Which unfortunately is also one of the main reasons for its unpopularity but I will get to that later in this post.

5. Gift Cards Are Best For Someone On The Move

If the recipient is traveling to/ from out of state, then gift cards are certainly a better choice than a physical gift. The gift card will save the individual from the packing dilemma or any issues exchanging the gift at the store if the need arises.

All of the above points make it seem like the gift cards are the way to go, but let’s not come to a conclusion without giving a thought to the disadvantages.

Do gift cards make good gift ideas for friends, coworkers and family

7 Disadvantages Of Gift Cards

There is some good to gift cards, but for some folks, gift cards are bad presents and here are the probable reasons why-

1. Preference For Actual Gifts

To the ones that enjoy the thrill of finding the perfect gift, gift cards seem vacant and inconsiderate. It is a good idea to refrain from giving a gift card to these individuals as a gift.

2. Gift Cards Tie Them To A Specific Store

Most brick & mortar and online stores offer gift cards that can only be used at the retailer’s store, these are called ‘closed-loop’ gift cards.

Unless you know which stores they like to frequent, there is a chance your retail store gift card will leave the recipient unimpressed.

3. People Often Forget To Use The Gift Cards.

According to Washington Post, each year Americans spent close to $130 billion on gift cards, out of which close to $1 billion worth of gift cards were never used.

Unlike an actual gift, people tend to store gift cards away from sight- in drawers, in the back pocket of a wallet- ultimately forgetting to use them. By the way, this is pure profit for the company since they got the money but never sold an item.

4. Gift Cards Are Not Safe From Fraud.

As people buy more gift cards, the scammers have also caught on to this part of the retail industry. The hackers run bots through the retailer’s online system to look for any cards that have an active balance on them. Once they get this information, they can sell the card information over the internet.

This is just one way the hackers steal information, there are many other ways they run gift card scams.

This means that the unused gift card sitting in your drawer can lose all its balance.

5. A Lost Gift Card Is As Good As Gone.

There is no way of getting a refund for a lost gift card at most retailers. An eGift Card is a more secure option but most people prefer to give a physical gift card to make it seem as less impersonal as possible.

6. Gift Cards Seem Impersonal

The convenience with which gift cards can be bought makes them seem unoriginal and lacking a personal touch. They can also seem all the more impersonal when the giver lacks proper gift card giving etiquette.

This brings me to the most important things to remember when presenting a gift card.

7. Return The Same Amount

The recipient is often left puzzled if you yourself prefer to receive gift cards and if they are compelled to give the same amount as they received.

It does not feel like a gift if they are supposed to return to you the same amount when it’s their turn to give you a present.

Proper Gift Card Etiquette

Yes, gift card etiquette does exist! Just because it is a gift card and not an actual gift does not mean your work is done once you bought it.

Follow these 5 simple gift card etiquettes to make your lackluster gift card look and feel like a showstopper:

-It is a gift card, but it can still use some fun wrapping (check out some creative ideas for presenting gift cards below). Place it in a nice box and wrap it like a boss. If you don’t have mad wrapping skills, just keep it inside a greeting card with a nice handwritten message.

-Make sure the gift card is still valid.

Yes, some gift cards come with an expiry date so you should always check. The same is true if you are passing off an old card that you received as a gift yourself, no one is judging!

-Give a gift card that is redeemable both in-store and online so the recipient can shop with convenience.

-Put some effort into finding the right gift card.

Find out what they really like. There is no point in giving someone a Domino’s gift card if they prefer their local pizzeria over it.

-Put an amount that is relative to the store your gift card is for.

A $25 gift card for Bloomingdales means that the recipient will most likely have to add more from their pocket to buy anything of value. There is a higher chance that they will store the gift card away than using it.

How Much To Put On A Gift Card

It goes without saying that the amount you put on a gift card can play a significant role in how well it is received by the recipient. A gift card does not seem significant but the cash value of it should at least be decent.

Before loading the gift card ask yourself the following questions to determine the right amount for the recipient.

>Your relationship to the recipient

>Their age

>The Occasion

Here’s, why!

> Your relationship to the recipient will play a major role in the decision since how much we want to spend, believe it or not, stems from our subconscious mind.

You like someone – you want to give more… like a friend or your niece etc. You don’t like someone or when gifting to an acquaintance- you will resort to what is considered the norm.

>Their age should also be a point to consider.

You are giving an iTunes gift card to a high schooler- anything between $25- $50 is considered good. But if the gift card is intended for a grown adult- your brother in law, for instance, you should ideally load $50 or more.

>The occasion sometimes dictates it’s own rules too.

The cost of a wedding has skyrocketed in recent years and so has the cost of attending one. The wedding gift is the biggest piece of expense for the guests and if you intend to skip giving an actual gift in favor of a gift card, load it up with at least $75 and up.

Suggested: How Much Cash Should You Give At A Wedding, Even When Not Attending!

If the occasion is a birthday or a housewarming, however, anything above $25, depending on your relationship to the person, is a decent amount as well. But are all occasions perfect for handing over a quick ‘gift card’ as a present?

When Is It Appropriate To Give A Gift Card

A gift card can make the perfect gift sometimes, but not all the time.

Festivities are one time when buying gifts for everyone can seem overwhelming and gift cards seem to be the easiest gift to grab and give.

So is it okay to give gift cards for Christmas? – The answer is a big Yes and No!

You should always think about the recipient when making that decision. If you know the person well enough to know what they like you should buy them an actual gift based on what they like.

Suggested: 17 Perfect Gift Tips That Will Skyrocket Your Gift Game

Their hobbies are a good place to start if you are looking for gift ideas. For instance, a book lover giftphotography enthusiast gift, comic fan gift, etc.

Unless you want them to buy what they need themselves with your gift card!

The advantages and disadvantages I discussed above in the post will also help with the decision.

Are Gift Cards Better Than Cash?

While some may consider both gift cards and cash as similar, in truth gift cards are better suited to some occasions than plain cash. For instance, you will most likely not gift cash to your colleague or a friend.

There are two more reasons why you are better off picking a gift card vs money.

Once the recipient receives cash they will most likely not remember who gave what, and probably spend it on everyday mundane stuff than actually buying something ‘gift-worthy’ for themselves which is not what you intended when you gave them cash.

Additionally, gift cards can also feel more thoughtful than cash, even though in theory they are both the same.

For instance, if someone gifts you a Sephora card, it shows that they at least know you love to buy makeup and frequent that store quite a bit.

The gift card is a way of saying I would love for you to go ahead and buy what you like from your favorite store.

So, Is Giving Gift Cards A Good Idea?

It is not really a black or white decision. It is for us to judge the situation and make the decision. After all, everybody wants to be the person who gifts the perfect present even if it is a gift card.

I hope all of the above pros and cons of giving gift cards have helped you make your decision.


What are your thoughts on giving gift cards as presents? Is there any specific occasion, in your opinion, that is best/ worst suited for gift cards? Do share your thoughts below in the comments section.

Do Gift Cards Make Good Presents

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