PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- A gift card isn't a cop-out, it's a growing holiday tradition.According to the National Retail Federation's annual holiday survey conducted by BIGresearch, holiday shoppers planned to spend $28.8 billion on gift cards last year alone. That's an average of $156.86 per shopper, the highest amount in the past decade and up from $155.43 in 2011. Roughly 81% of all holiday shoppers bought gift cards last year, compared with less than 80% in 2011, and they were planning to spend more with each purchase. The average gift card was worth $43.75, a slight increase from $43.23 the year before. About 45% who planned to buy gift cards went with the explanation that the cards allow the recipient to choose exactly what he or she wants. That secures just a bit more moral high ground than the nearly 21% choosing gift cards because they were more convenient. Still, there are a whole lot of holiday shoppers who have their pick of reasons not to buy up some pseudo cash. About 9% say they'd rather buy an item on sale than a gift card with a fixed price, while 16% say they're leery of suddenly subjecting their gift to fees and expiration dates that wouldn't exist if they just doled out cash. A full 24% of those of shoppers just find them impersonal no matter how many uses they have or what they're being bundled with. Besides, the card is only as good as the retailer or restaurant issuing it. Gift card monitoring site ScripSmart assigns zero-to-100 scores to gift cards from retailers throughout the U.S. and does a great job of shaking out the duds. With their help, we came up with 10 gift cards that separate a thoughtful gift from a last-minute nightmare:
Call it "Whole Paycheck" if you want, but a gift card goes a long way with its generic 365 Brand organic food, and its card is far better than any other grocer is offering.
Scoring 97 out of 100, Whole Foods Market's gift offering is easily ScripSmart's highest-rated grocery card. It never expires, has no fees, spells out a replacement policy and is available either in the store or online with free shipping. It's reloadable and redeemable at all Whole Foods locations and Whole Foods subsidiaries..
If you're that concerned about expense, though, just consider the card a subsidy. It can buy a lot of Annie's Mac and Cheese, but we're guessing it'll be more fun if spent on take-and-bake pizzas and party platters from the meat-and-cheese section.
It's just genius on Costco's part to offer this every holiday season. Now, maybe folks won't be terribly excited by the ability to buy all their paper products for the year at once, but they'll never know unless they try.
Costco's Cash Card gives folks $25 to $1,000 to spend on big boxes of cereal in the warehouse, electronics in the online store or unleaded at its gas stations. Perhaps the Cash Card's best feature is that it lets folks shop at any Costco location without being a member. In Costco's eyes it's a trial membership that gets new folks into the stores, but for non-members its a great way to get bargains without forking over a $50 to $100 membership fee.