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You Take: Why Do People Like Gift Cards?

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Gift CardsI think gift cards are stupid. But, rather than rehash why I dislike them (here’s a quick recap: you are forced to use them at a store, companies screw you with fees and expirations, easy to misplace or lose, and aren’t that much more “thoughtful” than cash), I’m curious to hear the pro-gift card folks out there on why they like them?

For the pro-gift carders, do you like giving them or receiving them? I can understand why people would like giving them – it shows you know the person a little bit, at least you know where they like to shop, but doesn’t force them into a particular item.

On the flip side, I cannot understand why someone would rather receive a gift card from store XYZ instead of cash. You can use cash to buy whatever you want wherever you want. You can use cash to pay off debts, you can use cash to light your cigars… you can’t do any of that with gift cards. If you’re pro-gift cards… please share with me your perspective.

After saying all that, we buy gift cards because that’s become the accepted norm. For wedding gifts, if we can’t find anything on the list because all the good stuff has been bought or because we were simply too slow, we get a gift card from the store where the registry is held. If it were up to me, I’d do the Chinese custom of giving money in a lucky red envelope.

(Photo: smcgee)

{ 31 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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31 Responses to “You Take: Why Do People Like Gift Cards?”

  1. Joshua says:

    Ok, so I think the idea is, that when you give someone a gift card to a certain store it is the same as giving them money and telling them to go shop at that store. Personally, I like giving them because they look better than cash does. I would give cash, but that really sounds so fake and thoughtless. “Here’s some cash for Christmas go use it!”

  2. Rob Lewis says:

    The only reasons I can think of is so that you know that the money is being spent on something they want, rather than just being spent on anything.

    If you give cash, it disappears into their wallet or their account and is kind of forgotten about. With a gift card, they’ll think of you when they spend it and recognise it as being a gift from you.

  3. vilkri says:

    I am with you. I don’t get gift cards, either. I have an electronic one sitting around (for almost a year now) that I can only use on the website of the sports authority – not even in the store. I am really into sports, but when I need something – run, bike, golf, ski, climbing, or whatever – I always go to a particular store or website that focuses on the respective sport. I guess at some point I will buy some clothing from the sports authority, hopefully before they go out of business…..

  4. CUMarketer says:

    Considering you can buy Visa or Mastercard Gift Cards now from your credit union, you don’t have to restrict the recipient to just one store. These gift cards can be used anywhere Visa or Mastercard are accepted. And some of those gift cards are reloadable making them perfect gifts for college students. Safer than cash and mom/dad can reload them.

    I like giving gift cards when I’m not sure what to get someone, or as a last minute gift when I’m “running late”. At least there’s the idea I was thinking of them. On the flip side, I would MUCH rather get a gift card from someone than a gift I don’t care for. Case in point, my stepmom always gets me those cheesy bath gift sets for Christmas. I would MUCH rather take the money she spent on it as a gift card and buy something I actually need or want.

    I never knew cash in a red envelope was good luck, and maybe the recipient wouldn’t either. I love the idea of having care and thought, good luck red envelope, put into a gift, but if it goes unnoticed, what’s the point.

  5. Patrick says:

    I just don’t get it. Unless you want to force somebody to spend the money somewhere, they just seem useless. I would much rather receive an american express gift card or just cash. The only thing I could say that people buy them just to make it look like they put some effort into the gift. The scarier thing now is that if a business where you buy the gift card for goes out of business, they don’t have to honor them. Imagine having tons of money on a card and then losing it all with no recourse.

  6. savvy says:

    I give gift cards sparingly but when I do, it’s because I don’t want the cash to just be absorbed into the receipient’s budget. I want them to actually use it for something nice for themselves. For example, I knew my brother wanted a digital camera. However, he’s very picky so I didn’t want buy one that he wouldn’t like and would have to exchange. So I gave him an AmEx gift card (so he wouldn’t be tied to any one store) and told him it was to buy his camera. He loved the ‘gift’ and actually commented that he was glad I gave him a gift card because if he had the cash he might not have ever bought the camera, choosing to allocate the cash otherwise.

  7. ChristianPF says:

    I too don’t get them. Not that I have a problem receiving them, it’s just that I am surprised that they have become as popular as they have the last decade. What ever happened to giving poundcake?

  8. Diane says:

    I don’t like getting store gift cards – have to keep track of them and spend them at a particular store… A card you can use anywhere would be better, though I think there are more fees associated with those.

    Personally, I’d rather receive cash, but I’m capable of putting the money aside and saving it for something I want.

    I’d rather not give cash to someone who’s just going to mix it in their budget… that’s not a gift to me.

    I don’t mind giving a gift card to a specific store if someone requests that.

  9. Aya @ Thrive says:

    I’m with you, I don’t like gift cards either, especially now that I’ve read articles about stores going bankrupt and not accepting purchases through them anymore…that’s a big waste of money.
    Still, I think it depends on who gives it to you. If its someone you know who thought really hard about your gift but decided to let you choose what the buy, it’s kind of sweet. Those people will give you a card from somewhere you normally shop at anyway. It spares you from having to look for something, anything to buy from a place you never go to.
    Gift cards probably got their bad reputation from those gift givers that don’t think about where the card is for and don’t really care if you use them. Those are the types of people that don’t give gifts out of love but obligation!
    However, we have recently put up a blog entry titled: “Note to family & friends: I prefer cash” so I guess it all depends on the person.

  10. Dave says:

    I give them because I’m lazy and hate shopping, and I only buy them if I know what store the person likes, or frequently shops at. I don’t give cash because I don’t want to pay their bills, I want to buy them a present.

    I like receiving them, but only to specific stores – I’ll always ask for Home Depot or Lowe’s cards, then save them up and buy an expensive tool i’ve had my eye on or put it towards a big project. I still have 4 or 5 gift cards sitting around because I have no use for them…

    I don’t like receiving cash as gifts (I love receiving cash, feel free to send me some if you have extra) because I put it in my wallet and buy gas or groceries with, and never actually buy myelf “a gift” with it…

  11. Jody says:

    My favorite gift to get is a Chapter’s giftcard, it’s the only time I have ‘permission’ to buy whatever books I want – guilt free. If I get cash, it will just get absorbed into the household spending.

    For those of you who have giftcards you can’t really use, check out E-Bay as people pay almost full price for giftcards to popular stores, so you can easily convert these unwanted giftcards into more usable cash.

  12. Beth says:

    I have a love-hate relationship with them. I only buy them if people ask for them — then I know it will get used. Some of my friends and family prefer that to cash because then it won’t get lost in their budget.

    As for me, I like getting gift cards for specific stores if I ask for them (I like bookstores and online music services mostly).

  13. Jim says:

    I like receiving gift cards. They give me a gift for something I’ll like but I have the flexibility to get the exact thing I want when I want it. I think gift cards are a little more thoughtful gift than just cash. Course the gift card should be somewhere I want to shop. For a gift card to be a good gift it has to be for a store or restaurant that I’d go to frequently. A gift card for a store I never shop at isn’t a good gift. A gift card for my favorite restaurant is a great gift.

    Giving cash or Mastercard/visa/Amex gift cards is more practical than a store gift card. But gift giving isn’t usually focused on practicallity. When I’m giving or getting gifts I think gifts that are what the person wants most or will make them happy and show you care are the best ones. Sometimes cash is a great gift in this sense. But sometimes cash is a ‘cop out’ that says you don’t have a clue about what the person wants or you can’t bother to take the time to do the shopping. If you don’t know exactly what the person wants then thats normal but you could at least pick a store you know they like and give them a gift card.


  14. I have a different take on the issue. If you give a gift to someone that had’t previously mentioned that they wanted something specific, what do you do? Do you go out and buy clothing that might not fit them? Do you purchse an item that you have no clue in the world whether they would like or possibly already have? If you do give a physical gift, and the tag is still attached or you supply them with a gift receipt for exchange purposes, they will only get credit from that specific store (almost the identical situation minus the return process). Many people prefer to gift cards to a store that they feel the recipient will sop at and appreciate the gesture. If not, the alternative that was mentioned was to buy bank-branded Visa/MasterCard/American Express gift cards which are good anywhere. In that case the recipient isn’t locked into a certain store and can “spread the wealth” if they do not find anything to use up the entire amount in one place in particular.

    In addition to eBay, ther are many sites like,,, etc where, for a nominal fee plus a stamp the recipient can trade the card for one of a preferred store, or simply cash.

  15. Root says:

    I get them for promotions. Example, Swagbucks search engine gives $5 Amazon codes for 45 points. Coinstar has a promotion for a extra $10 Amazon code when you cash in $40 coins for a Amazon code.

    Spend $25 in electronics/video and get a subscription to wired magazine, fill out the refund for the subscription and get $10 back.

    Or save for the $15 off $25 food promotions, like the one on Z-brand beef jerky that’s happening now. (Some people like the beef jerky for Christmas.)

  16. Root says:

    BTW: This year I bought stock in Nissan Motors (NSANY), Apex Silver and (HMY) Harmony gold for Christmas gifts using three sharebuilder accounts and three $50 promotions making the trades and the stocks free.

    I may get laid off but at least I’ll have something to show for it.

  17. paidtwice says:

    I love gift cards. Love love love.

    I wrote a post about this last holiday season but maybe I should write it again. 🙂

    Gift cards are the gift of shopping. I love to shop. And giving me a gift card is giving me the gift of shopping.

    Give me money and I will be responsible and pay down my student loan or something.

    Give me a gift card and I will spend an enjoyable afternoon browsing the shelves of one of my favorite stores and daydreaming about all the possibilities. 🙂

    I. Love. Gift cards.


    • says:

      That’s nice for a cup of java or for your books when they come in the mail from Barnes & Noble.
      In any case, I’m glad you are able to pay your
      loan off.

  18. lulugal11 says:

    I would not buy a gift card for someone and I don’t like when someone gives me a gift card instead of getting me a gift.

    I do like getting gift cards from MyPoints because cash is not available. I read some emails and then get rewarded with a gift card to CVS where I can get tons of stuff.

    Also, my insurance gives out gift cards through a rewards program so that is quite nice too. (If you have Blue Cross Blue Shield and are in Texas you might want to check this out. They give you points for tracking your weight etc and you can redeem the points for gift cards)

    Other than that I do not like gift cards.

  19. Hawkmoon Nine says:

    I like getting gift cards, but my wife LOVES them. If we get cash (or a check, as it happens) that money just goes into the bank and combined with all of our money. Done, never to be thought of again. My wife loves them because then she HAS to go use it, she feels like we shouldn’t spend it (or at least all of it) if it goes into the bank.

    They are great for getting someone clothes, but not wanting to pick out something that might not fit, or is your style and not theirs.

  20. Gates VP says:

    From my weakly-maintained blog last year:
    The nature of the GC is not inherently that it’s a bad gift. it’s a gift that requires thought just as much as any other gift. Bad gifts are bad gifts, cash, cash-equivalent or wrapped in a big box. So just buy gifts that are appreciated (and take the time to wrap them, it shows that you care)

    See above comments, gift or cash cards can be a great gift for the overly frugal or self-sacrificial. If the receiver doesn’t like “treating” themselves, then gift-cards are a great way to help them out (if you feel they need it). By the same measure a gift card is awesome for a shopper on a budget. For some people, spending money at Best Buy / The Gap / Barnes & Noble, can be just as fun as the gift itself. If you know that PaidTwice is on a tight budget (’cause you read her blog), then you’ll know that a gift card is a great idea, b/c she doesn’t spend much on herself any more.

    There are also some gifts that are most appropriate in card format such as spa-style treatments and the Starbucks card.

    In the same way as a gift card, a savings bond can be a great gift for Children (and their parents). The same negative arguments could apply (you’re investing their money for them), but it is appropriate in the right places.

    Gift cards are the both the “new thoughtful” gift and the “new x-mas sweater/tie” all rolled in to one. So I think that it’s better not to really group them into one big pile.

    A crappy gift is a crappy gift, no matter the form.

    • says:

      Yes, you can sure tell a “white elephant” when you are receiving one can’t you? I hope you haven’t gotten any lately. That isn’t likely to happen with a gift card as people pay attention to local restaurants and stores in your area that you like.
      At least I hope so. Something really general, like a Kmart, Walmart, or Target store is best. We are homeowners doing some projects around the house, so Lowe’s is a nice card to get. Osh’s service is much better, but the

  21. chris says:

    I like getting gift cards….From the stores I want to shop at.That’s the key in giving/ getting a gift card.
    The people who gives them to me only gets them at 2 stores where i like to shop .Money would be fine but alot of people doesn’t like to give you that so I would rather have a card then a gift that I have no use for.
    With gift cards you don’t spend it ( at least I don’t) right away like you would if you got money.And it’s nice to go in a store when you don’t have any cash but you got your card so you can still shop.
    I only give a gift card to my childern to their favorite store.They like it because they can spend the money how they want to & when. I know my daughter likes it because when she’s broke or just doesn’t want to use her money & needs to buy something .. she’ll use the card because her thinking is that she’s not “using her money” to get it .
    Bottom line:only give a person a card IF you know they shop at that store,coffee shop ,gas station ect.. or it’s not worth giving .And I only give cards out at christmas & birthdays.When it comes to wedding,graduation …give them cash!!!!!

  22. It really depends on who it’s for and what the occasion is. It’s probably decent for a kid at a decent store, but not so good for a wedding or something more formal. It’s also much harder to reject than cash.

  23. Stacey says:

    I’ve always hated gift cards, because they’re usually to some obscure store 45 minutes from my house… As it was said above, a bad gift is a bad gift. Take a few minutes and think about what the person wants/needs. 🙂

    I’ll be giving a gift certificate as a Christmas present for the first time this year, to my husband’s parents. They’re the type that buys what they want, when they want it, and we never know what to get them. Gifts should be thoughtful and useful, in my opinon… so they’re getting a certificate to their favorite restaurant.

  24. Rich says:

    I love getting gift cards. If I get cash I usually feel the need to spend it on something practical like food. But if I get a gift card I know to spend it on something I want, and I can often combine it with money I was going to spend anyways to get something better that I wanted.

  25. PT says:

    I give them (restaurant and movie gift cards) to my sis and bro-in-law b/c they have too much junk already and he doesn’t take her out on dates enough.

    I say any consumable gift is better than a trinket. Cash is just impersonal.

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