Gift cards or the real things?
Today’s unofficial start of the holiday shopping season means a decision beyond whose name goes on the shopping list. Do those people get specifically selected gifts or gift cards?
An informal survey last week of shoppers in High Point revealed that many people still prefer to give specific gifts because they’re more personal and in keeping with the feel of the holiday season. They more often give cards to people they know less well or to people who live out of town.
People surveyed seemed to care less whether they receive cards or gifts – with one group as an exception. Teens like gift cards because their tastes are very specific and they don’t trust grandma or weird auntie to get what they want.
One woman shopping at Target last week never considered gift cards for a special person on her Christmas list. LeAnn Weih of High Point was preparing to send a Christmas package to her son, Cole, who just deployed to Afghanistan with the Army. She’s sending him disposable gifts, including treats and small ornaments with photos of his children.
The popularity of gift cards increases each year. Gift card use in the United States surpassed $100 billion, a record, by the end of 2011, according to TowerResearch.
About 85 percent are used within 60 days, but cards totaling $41 billion have gone unused since 2005, which is a boon to the stores and companies that sell them.
The number of cards that go unused, however, has decreased since the CARD (Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure) Act of 2009. The act established that most gift cards cannot expire until five years after the last load onto the card.
There are two types of gift cards: closed and open. Closed are store-specific and usually don’t have an expiration date or an extra purchase fee. Open cards are issued by the four major U.S. payment networks – American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa – and they often carry a purchase fee.
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