Gift Cards: Appreciated Present or Inconvenience?

Did you give or receive a gift card this holiday season? If you did, you’re certainly not alone. According to an estimate by the National Retail Federation, $27.5 billion worth of them is expected to be sold this holiday season. Wow.

Advantages of Giving Gift Cards

Gift cards are a convenient way to ensure that you give something the recipient wants, is the right size, color, model, or style. By giving a gift card, you’re empowering the recipient to buy precisely what they want. There’s no unwanted gift to return or exchange, should the gift prove unsatisfactory. They are easy to purchase and can be enclosed in a greeting card, for instance, eliminating the expense of wrapping or mailing a package. Additionally, gift cards can be purchased online and emailed directly to the recipient, making gift buying and delivery nearly instantaneous.

Disadvantages of Giving Gift Cards

Oftentimes, the giver would prefer the actual price of a gift to remain unknown. With the value printed on the gift card, that secret is impossible to maintain. As for recipients, some consider a gift card a “lazy” gift, believing that the giver failed to put an appropriate degree of thought into the present. I know I certainly have bought gift cards just because I was in a hurry and I needed a gift fast. In other cases, recipients consider a gift card limiting because it requires them to shop at a particular retailer and would rather receive cash to spend where they wish.

You also aren't really giving a gift when you give someone a gift card. The amount of the gift card won't be exactly what one gift would cost. In reality, you are either buying multiple gifts or contributing to one bigger gift if you give someone a gift card.

Finally, I remember my friend every time I use my mug because my friend gave me that thoughtful gift years ago. When you give someone a gift card, they will likely forget all about it because there's likely nothing to attract the memory of your gift to. While I'm sure the primary motivation of giving someone a gift isn't to make them thankful to you, it's nonetheless a major disadvantage of giving gift cards.

Redeeming Gift Cards

The best scenario as a gift card recipient is getting a card for a retailer you love shopping at, but there’s a chance that you would still waste money on the gift. That’s because you may have a few dollars left on the balance and everything else you want to get is much more expensive than what you have left on the card. You can use the remaining balance on a gift card and pay the rest with your credit card, but do you really want to pay more money out of your own pocket in order to use up what’s in your card?

Now, what if you don’t love shopping at the retailer the gift card you got is for? The reality is that 25% of gift cards are never redeemed. Aside from cards that simply get lost or forgotten in a wallet or drawer, the main reason for a gift card not being used is because the recipient is not interested in shopping at the retailer from which the gift card was purchased. What can an unsatisfied gift card recipient do?

3 Things You Can Do With Unwanted Gift Cards:

Use at an affiliated retailer: Often a gift card is not only redeemable at the store from which it was purchased but at that store’s affiliates which are under the same parent company. These other retailers are often listed on the gift card itself. Check to see if one of them may be a more desirable place to spend your gift card.

Re-gift: Perhaps you have a friend or family member who you know would appreciate the gift card more than yourself. Gift cards make great re-gifts with one caveat: before re-gifting, check the value of the card to make sure that no inactivity fees have been deducted from its original value. It would be embarrassing for you to give a gift card worth less than its stated value. It would also be inconvenient for the recipient when he or she goes to redeem it. Some stores have online systems to let you check the value of a gift card. Others let you call in, but pretty much every physical store lets you walk in there to check with the customer service department.

Exchange or sell: There are websites where unwanted gift cards can be sold and swapped in exchange for a portion of the value of the card. Companies that exchange your unwanted gift cards include,, and but there are many more. These companies will let you list your unwanted gift cards to others and when it's sold, you can tell the website to exchange the money for more desirable gift cards, send you cash, place the value in your PayPal account or even donate the value to charity.

Gift cards give the gift of shopping to their recipients. With a little knowledge about them, they can be the perfect gift for nearly everyone.

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