The Economy and Etiquette of Gift Cards for Christmas

gift cardsThere seems to be a love/hate relationship many have with gift cards. Some call such items impersonal while others embrace gift cards as quite the thoughtful gift.

Like them or not, gift cards have become one of the most popularly exchanged items of Christmas. According to giftcards.com more than $100 billion is spent on gift cards annually and 93% of U.S. consumers claim purchasing or receiving a gift card each year.

As the e-commerce economy grows so too have the rules of gift card etiquette shifted.

For example, it used to be thought that a store gift card was more personal of a gift than a bank gift card. The thinking was that if you know a person’s favorite merchant the gift of a store gift card allows them to shop where they prefer or for items they favor.

But bank gift cards offer flexibility store gift cards never can.

A Visa-logo gift card or similar can be used almost anywhere for anything. In this economy of mostly part time work, that is often the more thoughtful gift.

Gift cards are coming in even more specialty categories. A restaurant gift card is the gift of a meal – something that is intimate, warm and thoughtful. But gift cards can also be purchased for clothing or memberships or even charities. The possibilities are endless.

This flexibility has made giving much easier, especially for gift recipients who seem to have everything.

Gift cards are also cheap and easy to ship – and they are, bar none, the #1 re-gifted item in history.

The etiquette of sending and receiving gift cards has also advanced. No longer is it inappropriate to offload a gift card when it is receive. In other words, you don’t have to use a gift card.

You can re-gift it or even re-sell it. It just doesn’t matter.

If there are rules any more to worry about they come in the form of how gift cards are redeemed. By law, a gift card cannot expire for at least five years. However, if you receive a gift card and don’t use it for more than a year you might be docked an inactivity fee. It just depends on the card.

That is why a good general rule when receiving a gift card is to use it, re-gift it or donate it right away.

Recently a daughter of mine got married. As the bride and groom both came from large families they were showered with gifts, including many, many gift cards of various value. Sometimes this happens at Christmas too.

What to do when you get bunches of cards?

Well, don’t let the grass grow underneath your feet. Go shopping!

If that wears you out or you otherwise just cannot use a card there are plenty of places online where you can sell, trade or donate your gift cards.

One such place is CashCard.com. It is a veritable economy of its own and the currency is gift cards.

Say, for example, you received a Sam’s Club gift card but don’t live anywhere near a Sam’s Club or are not a member online. You could trade your Sam’s Club card for another from Costco or elsewhere.

What a marketplace like CashCard.com or SaveYa will teach you, however, is that not all gift cards are valued alike. A recent check showed that you can sell a $100 Costco gift card for $83. But a $100 gift card from H&M will only fetch about $56.

Seem low to you? Take heart – your $100 gift card might translate to a profit if you find a low valued gift card that you simply like better than the card you hold.

Even though the perceptions of gift cards has loosened somewhat there are some basic common-sense guidelines you should always follow:

1. Buy your gift card (or e-card) from a reputable location that will provide you with a hard receipt. Include that receipt when you gift the card.

2. If the dollar amount isn’t clear on the card – and on many cards the amount can vary – you need to inform the receiver of the value of the card.

3. Only re-gift a card that has NEVER been used or had value deducted from the card. (In other words, don’t re-gift a card you have held on to for more than a year). To give a card with $50 original value that only has $25 bucks left on it is rude.

4. Personalize the package your card comes in – put it inside of a greeting card or with a personal note extending greetings.

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