Gift Cards – Does The Perfect Gift Need Perfecting?

You have a list of folks you want to send gifts to. Many are out of state. Then there are your immediate siblings. Some you know well. Others? You just don’t have a clue as to what half of them like? So you consider giving them a gift certificate. After all money doesn’t grow on trees. The fact is with the cost of gas doubling over the past few years, inflation on our heels and the growth in family reunion attendance, offsetting the cost of gift giving by finding low priced items that every body loves has become an even greater challenge then it ever has been. Thus the growing popularity of gift cards.

The National Retail Federation anticipated $17.24 billion worth of holiday sales last year in gift cards. The reasons gift cards are so frequently bought in place of other items are numerous. No one wants to give a gift that is not appreciated. In addition, who wants to burden down an aging relative with having to drive several miles to a store she nevers shops in order to exchange the gift.

Mark Askew, founder of says, “Folks once thought that with a gift card you couldn’t go wrong trying to please. And this seemed logical at the time. Thus as gift cards gained popularity many merchants jumped on the bandwagon. But until recently gift card weren’t all they were thought to be.”

All too true. For instance, what if you give a gift card from a sporting goods store to someone who’s not into sports? Or a gift to shop a jewelry store to someone who lives too great a distance from the store to even bother to shop there.

But has the gift card changed all that much over the past three or more years? Perhaps. Prepaid gift cards issued by VISA and MasterCard offer a way to use a gift card anywhere credit cards are accepted. Prepaid debit card issuers and 60 percent of store gift card issuers offer the potential to obtain a replacement card with the remaining balance if the original is lost or stolen. But getting a replacement may require the purchase receipt and the card number. Some companies may accept other proof of purchase. The gift card recipient would have to have all these papers to obtain a replacement. No wonder a significant percentage of gift cards have gone unredeemed. That said, when buying a gift card, look carefully at the pre-purchase disclosures of terms and conditions on the web site and the packaging in the store. If terms are not given or appear too cryptic to be complete don’t buy.

So when a recipient receives a store issued gift card from a store they don’t like obviously the card just sits in a dresser drawer until it’s long past the expiration date? Are merchants pocketing the cash while the gift card purchasers just throw away money? That was once the case. But companies like Sears announced it is eliminating expiration dates from all gift cards issued beginning December 17, 2003. Other card issuers have been quickly following suit.

In addition to less expiration date worries there are now a handful of companies dedicated to redeeming major retail gift cards for recipients of unwanted, unredeemed gift cards. One site,, offers gift card ordering, redemption programs as well as gift card exchanges. Many of these companies offer services for such card issuers as Best Buy Starbucks and Outback SteakHouse. Still with all the recent changes in favor of the recipient losing the impersonal commercial stigma associated with gift cards has been a challenge.

Some gift card websites have gone to great lengths to overcome this obstacle. Now you can upload your own images and add your own text to create a custom card. Embossed text gives the card that engraved look, a very personal touch.

Still with all the work to personalize a gift card they still seem to need help to stand out in the crowd of greeting cards and gift bags. After all a gift card is four times smaller that a simple greeting card and weighs only a few ounces. Does this mean that gifts card don’t have what it takes to stand out among large presents? Some issuers compensate for this by upping the monetary value of gifts cards. Some cards values far outweigh any large dominating boxed gift. From $200 to $300 or more. With the advent of prepaid debit gift cards from VISA, MasterCard, American Express and DiscoverCard folks can give a gift card valued at $500 to as much as $3000 dollars depending on the provider. Perhaps big things do come in small packages.

Important gift card tips:

Retain a copy of all the purchase receipts and the card numbers. Mail original receipts to recipient. Papers including instructions and card use should also be sent to the client as some cards do not have expiration dates printed on the card itself.

With all the attention gift cards have been given these past few years it would seem they are here to stay. Just make sure you can find them once you’ve put them away. And above all exchange or redeem the non-debit kind.

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