Gift cards require no thought or creativity, making them a holiday shopping staple for lazy consumers.
According to a survey by Bankrate.com during the last holiday season, half of consumers said they planned to give a gift card to someoneon their list. However, only 27% of Americans said they wanted to receive one. In fact, younger generations who've never known a holiday without gift cards seem to resent them most. While 34% of younger Millennials (ages 18 through 25) wanted a gift card, a whopping 57% preferred a tangible gift.
Though 23% of all gift recipients didn't care if they receive a gift card or tangible gift, just 9% of that younger group felt the same. That's in stark contrast to their older Baby Boomer grandparents (ages 62 through 70) who don't think much of receiving gifts (44%) and are more likely than any age group (66%) to buy gift cards for others.
"Finding a gift that suits each individual on your holiday list can be a challenging task," said Bankrate.com analyst Mike Cetera. "Given the vast selection, electronic delivery options and potential security features, gift cards are still a solid choice for many gift-givers."
The Baby Boomers and others may have overdone it with gift cards in recent years, but demand for them fluctuates. According to the National Retail Federation's Gift Card Spending Survey from 2014, those thinking of buying gift cards spent about $20 less on them ($153.08 vs. $172.74 in 2014) during the 2015 holiday season. That was still $25.9 billion, but it was the first drop in average spending since 2009. However, in 2016, gift card spending rose to $27.5 billion. The most popular types of gift cards included those from restaurants (35% of buyers), department stores (33%), Visa/MasterCard/American Express (22%), coffee shops (21%) and entertainment (17%). However, even the NRF, a huge proponent of its retailers' gift cards, is starting to see them more as fallback option than anyone's first choice.
"Retailers' early promotions and exclusive offerings have made it easier for consumers to find everything they need without having to consider raiding the gift card rack," said NRF President and chief executive Matthew Shay said in a statement accompanying the survey's release. "That said, there is an interesting disconnect between gift givers and gift recipients this year as gift cards still top millions of Americans' wish lists."
However, gift cards have evolved over the years. According to Bankrate, 67% of cards purchased in 2016 had a personal identification number (PIN), up from 50% from 2015 and 35% three years ago. However, only 62% of cards had some form of loss and theft protection (most likely offered on e-cards), down from 72% and 68% in 2015 and 2014. That's not particularly helpful when one in four Americans and 40% of Millennials have lost a gift card before using its entire balance.
"With so many recent data breaches and the transition to EMV chip credit cards, security is top of mind for many Americans," said Claes Bell, a Bankrate.com banking analyst. "Retailers are taking note and have made gift cards a much safer way to spend money."
Gift cards have also become more convenient. According to Bankrate, 67% of gift cards in 2016 were available as e-cards as well, with 40 of the 41 cards available as e-cards requiring an email or phone number to purchase. Also, 64% of gift cards were reloadable, up from 60% in 2015 and 52% three years ago. Granted e-cards are not always reloadable, and some gift cards can only be reloaded in-store, but it beats dealing with a zero balance.
For 24.7% of NRF shoppers, gift cards easier and faster to buy than traditional gifts. Another 50% like the fact that they allow recipients to choose their own gifts. Meanwhile, 5.2% like the fact that they don't have to worry about returns. Unfortunately for all of those folks above, gift recipients are starting to get a sense that they're being handed a short cut.
Though about 77% of Americans have given a gift card, according to Card Cash, they aren't always doing so willingly. According to Bizrate Insights, a division of retail market research firm Connexity, 61% of online buyers want to receive a gift card, but only 46% plan on giving them as gifts. The NRF doesn't like talking about why people might dislike a gift card, but their survey respondents once did. In a survey two years ago among shoppers who weren't buying gift cards, 25% thought gift cards werere impersonal. A full 16.3% of potential gift-card buyers worried about the card expiring, while 2.1% didn't like the idea of the retailer who issued it going bankrupt.
That last group is on to something. This has been a particularly bloody year for retail bankruptcies and restaurant closures, which makes gift cards from those imperiled businesses a particularly dicey proposition. Just as an example of the gift-card minefield that awaits you during your holiday shopping, here are ten examples of retailers and restaurants that might not be the easiest places to redeem a gift card a year from now:
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