Gift Cards: The Enemy Of Sincerity

One of the biggest pushes that you will see around the later half of each year is that of retailers and their gift cards. Gift cards are essentially a credit to a store that is void of any identification so it can be given to someone else as a gift to spend as they like.

I loath gift cards. I think that if it really is the thought that counts, gift cards are the closest thing to not thinking of someone. It’s an afterthought, a cop-out, a lazy checkout-line makeup call and the reasoning behind my stand isn’t completely based on my own upbringing or traditions.

Gift cards were created by retailers in order to skew sales numbers. They created them so they could sell a credit that could be redeemed any time of the year but paid for when they wanted. That way they would have a high revenue number for that time period yet still retain the same amount of physical goods in their store; it’s the perfect scam.

By skewing their numbers in this way, they can fool stock holders, management, whoever they like because they are basically printing money. A gift card to you is an interest-free loan to them that you aren’t even guaranteed to collect on.

Retailers do everything they can to portray gift cards as a novelty, a toy and anything but cash. They make it as difficult as possible for you to check balances, get customer support, know how much is on the card and if you lose them, there is nothing they can do.

Where do I get my information? I worked in retail for some time, around when gift cards really started to take off. We knew what we were doing and gift cards were the answer to bad sales numbers. We could attach them to anything as a bonus to get you to spend a little more and they almost guaranteed that you would come back to the store and shop some more, especially when we threw them in in small quantities. Giving a $10 gift card to a place where nothing was under $10 insured that you came and spent more money.

Then someone at [insert major credit card company here] thought, “wow this is working out great, people are giving their money to retailers for nothing, we better get on this!” and the gift card/credit card was born. This card is even worse than a traditional retailer credit card, harder to manage and comes with a fee to activate and reload! Who knew the perfect scam could get even better?

The worst part about all this? For some reason, we think this is a good idea! It’s almost as if the world has been brainwashed into thinking getting slapped in the face feels good. Please, can I have another? Retailers, the epitome of insincerity, are now who we look to for gift giving advice. How is that a good idea?

And the case against returning merchandise is flimsy. You give a gift card so the recipient doesn’t have to return to the store, wait in a long line and return the bad gift, yet you give them a gift card so they have to return to the store to spend it and wait in a long checkout line? What’s the difference?

To those of you that ask for gift cards; I know you are difficult to shop for, you are independent and hate returning things but open up a little bit to those around you. Express your interests and you may be surprised when you get something that completely blows away your expectations.

Cash has been looked at as a tacky gift for ages, but if that cash is put in a pretty envelope and tied to a specific retailer, it’s now perfectly acceptable. I’m saying stop! Stop giving retailers your guaranteed business. Stop falling right into their clever little trap. You can do a little detective work and find out what those on your list are interested in. You can show them that you actually care and know them just a little bit.

Do you follow the Pied Piper or walk to your own drum beat against the cry for effortless gift-giving?

Image by KE-TA

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23 People have left comments on this post

» MoneyconeNo Gravatar said: { Dec 13, 2010 - 08:12:51 }

Couldn’t agree more! I’ll admit I’ve given gift cards, mainly out of desperation. But nowadays I avoid it.

Gift cards are a great deal for retailers, not the giver or the receiver. And some of them have hidden charges like processing fee(why?) and all of them have time limits!

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Good for you!

Fees on gift cards are as bad as charging for people to text. Texting uses a datastream that is mandatory for the phone to work, and they found away to sneak messages into that datastream, and charge you for it. What a racket!

» Khaleef @ KNS FinancialNo Gravatar said: { Dec 13, 2010 - 02:12:30 }

I have to admit that Amazon gift cards have always caught my eye! But I feel the same as you do regarding GC’s in general. The ones that include fees are especially horrendous.

I like your point about cash! Why is it ok to give cash in the form of a GC, but not just stick it in a card?

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Darn those double-standards! 🙂

» Jeff @ Sustainable LIfe BlogNo Gravatar said: { Dec 13, 2010 - 04:12:52 }

Have to agree with you on gift cards – It makes it seem like the person sort of knows you (by picking the right store) but other than that, are just getting something quick – out of obligation. I’d rather them save their money, honestly.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

and with Amazon carrying everything under the sun, someone could really just get one of those and say, “I knew you shopped there, we’re best friends right?” 😉

» YanaNo Gravatar said: { Dec 13, 2010 - 09:12:15 }

I agree that the idea of gift cards generally seems scammy. Still, I don’t mind receiving Amazon or Target gift cards. My husband’s employer gave Target gift cards to employees for awhile, and it counted as taxable income! I’m sorry they quit doing that, because it was still profit. If a gift card can be used for daily living expenses and not luxuries, I am glad to receive them. I don’t give gift cards, though. I’d worry that the recipient wouldn’t redeem the card, and it would be money down the toilet.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

That all depends who they come from in my opinion. I don’t mind receiving Amazon or Target gift cards from companies, giveaways or anonymous people that really don’t know me, but if you want a longer relationship than what I have with the cashier at the checkout counter, put some thought into the gift ya know?

And your point about the cards being forgotten, that happens much more than you think especially with cards that have expirations.

» Credit Cards CanadaNo Gravatar said: { Dec 13, 2010 - 10:12:46 }

“A gift card to you is an interest-free loan to them that you aren’t even guaranteed to collect on.” I agree, having just redeemed a Home Depot Gift Card from last Christmas, and having just found a Kelsey’s gift card I didn’t even know I had.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Yep! giving gift cards to kids is really bad because they see the shiny, colorful picture and think it’s a toy. I know a $50 gift-card given to my little sister last year went unredeemed because she put it in her toy purse and forgot all about it.

» [email protected]No Gravatar said: { Dec 14, 2010 - 04:12:16 }

I had given gift cards in the past as birthday and wedding presents. I thought they’d be more convenient, and I get to avoid giving gifts similar to those given by other guests. But I must say you have a good point. Yana is right too – if the recipient forgets to redeem the gift card, it sure is a waste of money.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

For weddings, you do have a registry which helps figure out what you can give to the happy couple. While giving them a giftcard at that early stage in marriage may also be really helpful, do you think they will remember that? “so and so gave us this awesome gift card when we got married. We still have it today and will pass it on to our kids when they get married” not exactly the kind of thing you will likely hear. But if you give them something from their registry they need, something sentimental or memorable, they will take that with them for years to come along with the joy you created. Same goes for birthdays 🙂

» The Everyday MinimalistNo Gravatar said: { Dec 15, 2010 - 06:12:41 }

I am the lone voice of dissent here because I loathe actual presents. No one ever gets it right unless I tell them THIS IS WHAT I WANT, and even then it’s not that fun.

I’d prefer cash. If you give me cash, I’ll save it or spend it eating out or something. Next is gift cards to stores I actually go to and use it as a partial credit (Anthropologie, Banana Republic, H&M, Best Buy) NOT Apple or any place where $20 buys you squat and you shell out $1980 to buy a $2000 card because of a $20 GC.

Failing all that, give me food as a gift. Something tasty that I don’t know how to make, and lots of it 😛

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

I’m one of those people that is difficult to shop for so I know how you feel. I’m very particular about gifts. I just want the people that give me gifts, the people that are supposed to know me, to know me! That comment in the post about opening up to those around you was actually directed at me, and after I wrote it I made a figurative wish list for a friend that was struggling shopping for me (he wouldn’t take my ‘no gift pledge’ and insisted). My wish list consisted of items that represented topics of interest. I like the surprise of getting a really good gift so telling people exactly what I want just sucks.

Depending on how the cash is given (classy, with a card or wrapped in some way; not just a “here, I can’t think of anything”) I’d definitely put the cash to better use than a retail gift card.

I’m right there with you about food as a gift and don’t get me started on Apple! 🙂

» Currency Exchange DudeNo Gravatar said: { Dec 16, 2010 - 05:12:26 }

I never gave much thought to the skewing sales figures side of gift cards (I’m a consumer after all.) But I do agree they’re a thoughtless gift and even worse than cash. I expect it’s because in several cases people give gifts as a family obligation rather than because they know someone!

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

I’ll never forget the push for gift cards no matter the circumstance when I worked in retail, it was insane. It’s funny how there is so much transparency in some areas of the world, and so little in others.

» Kay Lynn @ Bucksome BoomerNo Gravatar said: { Dec 16, 2010 - 08:12:18 }

I like gift cards and think they’re suitable gifts for some people. My mom and dad don’t need anything but love gift cards to their favorite restaurants.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

To clarify a bit, my rant of sorts was directly for the most part at retailers and consumerism itself. I do see the value that many have pointed out in giving the gift of experiences like show tickets, gift cards to restaurants and those gift cards given by what I would call third parties like companies and bloggers 🙂 we do receive and give gift cards to restaurants, and love them…I see a follow up post on the horizon 😉

» MarkNo Gravatar said: { Dec 17, 2010 - 09:12:09 }

LOL. Jesse I love gift cards because I can buy whatever I want. It is less personal but better than a gift I hate!

» ScottNo Gravatar said: { Dec 29, 2010 - 01:12:50 }

What about this example. I gave my sister a make-up box that she need to use and carry around. I threw in a 100 dollar gift card to a store she likes. I felt the make-up box was useful, but I wanted to give more. Should I have just given her cash instead? (God forbid if I tried to buy her make-up)

Here is the question: Are there any scenarios that a gift card is acceptable in which it can compliment the gift?

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Absolutely and yours is one of those great examples where the gift card supplemented the actual thought you put into the gift. A couple people also chimed in about giving gift cards to restaurants and shows. Those are awesome ideas because they enable experiences versus straight up consumerism.

Your gift showed thought and provided a little extra, even an experience your sister will enjoy. Gift cards given as an obligation, nay, an excuse or replacement for actual effort are what my battle is about.

» Mrs. AccountabilityNo Gravatar said: { Jan 3, 2011 - 12:01:33 }

I have a love/hate relationship with gift cards. On one hand, I have a tendency to want to hold onto them because it’s like my secret little stash of “money” at that store. But then when I get to the store, I find myself trying to find the best possible way to spend the money. I should just wait to shop until I need something, but then it seems less of a gift than if I get to spend it as mad money. I would actually prefer a gift card than a gift that someone thought I would love to have. For example… there is this crazy snow people collection on my desk at work. My boss adds to it every year, she is the one that started it ten years ago! Anyway, about four years ago, the owner decided to get in on the act and now he gives me a new snow person every year, a really beautiful one that probably costs at least $30. I could find several other ways to spend $30 than one more snow person on my desk at work. I do enjoy the snow people and every one at work looks forward to seeing it during the holidays. What am I supposed to do? Tell my boss and the owner I don’t want any more snow people, just give me a gift card instead? No wait, my boss does give me a gift card… LOL. At our yearly Secret Santa gift exchange I have given a gift card but I usually give another little gift along with it. I never thought about it from the retailer’s side of things, and I rarely shop at stores that push gift cards so I don’t see why it’s so wrong for them to do it. I mean maybe if you’re talking Dillard’s or Saks Fifth Avenue or something. One year a friend of mine got me a $25 gift card to Dillard’s, thinking she was going to educate me on “the finer things in life” because I was always getting great from Ross Dress for Less or thrift stores… she thought I would have to put in at least $20 with her gift card, well, it just so happens that I shopped when they were having a huge clearance sale and I came back the next week with four beautiful work outfits for $5.00 each. She was floored. Gosh. Didn’t mean to write a blog post on my thoughts about gift cards.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

🙂 looks like you are passionate about the subject!

I love how the “I’ll show you a thing or two” backfired and you scored big at a fine store 🙂 did you use coupons too? That would be the ultimate hah

I can understand not wanting bad gifts, thats a common problem for sure but communication solves 99% of problems in my eyes. While asking your boss/owner to not give you the snowpeope could end up badly, asking them to not spend so much would be fine I think, especially if it’s something everyone has come to enjoy.

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