It's always the right size, can be wrapped with ease, and now, it doesn't even need to be shipped. The gift card market is already a $91 billion industry, and it's growing at the same rate as the rest of the retail market - if not faster - according to CreditCards.com. By 2012, researchers foresee gift card sales increasing to $100 billion, and electronic gift cards are expected to make the greatest strides. These e-cards allow gifters to send the card via email, mobile devices, or even social media (instant delivery and no line at the post office!).
So what makes e-gift cards so appealing? For one, it's their vast availability. According to a CreditCards.com survey, more than half of the 63 retailers surveyed offered e-gift cards - many for the first time this year. Among the first-timers are ConsumerSearch best-reviewed gift card sellers Gap and American Express.
E-gift cards also offer convenience. According to CreditCards.com, the major consumer turn-offs to gift cards is that they involve heading to the store and then the post office and, then, after all that effort, a gift card feels a bit impersonal. David Stone, chief executive officer at CashStar, told CreditCards.com that e-gift cards alleviate both issues. How? E-gift cards allow consumers to personalize a message, and some retailers even allow the gifter to include images and video.
While e-mail still makes up the vast majority of the e-gifting market (a whopping 95 percent), mobile and social media gifting are on the rise. Target and Starbucks allow gift-givers to send cards through apps, while retailers like Amazon.com let buyers post gifts to friends' Facebook walls - it's this form of gifting that's growing fastest, at a rate of about 400 percent.
But it's not just buyers who benefit from e-cards; they're a convenient gift for recipients, too. While many retailers replace cards that are lost or stolen, not all do. E-cards, though, are much more difficult to lose, meaning your recipient won't risk losing the card's value altogether or have to deal with the hassle of replacing it. They also alleviate the struggle of finding a physical store to shop in. And Mother Nature reaps rewards, too, since e-cards eliminate the plastic card, paper packaging, and fuel used to ship the card. "A 2010 holiday survey by CashStar found that 60 percent of shoppers were more likely to buy a digital gift card instead of a plastic one due to environmental concerns," Earth911 reports.
Our gift card report found that each brand offers its own additional bonuses, too. For example, Amazon.com electronic gift cards can be scheduled for delivery up to a year in advance. RSR research also ranked the best electronic gift cards. Home Depot, Best Buy, Williams-Sonoma, Amazon.com, Gap and L.L.Bean earned top spots (Home Depot and Gap are among the best for personalization). For buyers looking to gift via mobile devices, REI, Lowe's, Victoria's Secret, Amazon and JC Penney are your best bets, according to the research group.
Despite the best-laid plans, though, we do sometimes receive gift cards we just don't need or want. If the holiday season brings you a gift card that just doesn't make sense for you, there's a new solution: Gift Card Exchange Day. Developed by the folks at GiftCardGranny.com, Gift Card Exchange Day will take place on December 26. The plan is: Consumers will go on the site, post the value and retailer of their gift card, and resellers will buy the card for cash. The December 26 date is important for a couple reasons. First, resellers are eager to buy those cards right after Christmas. Plus, it's an easy-to-remember date, preventing us from forgetting about those cards in the pocket of a seldom-worn pair of pants or the back of the junk drawer. And apparently that's a common problem; more than $60 billion in store gift cards remain unspent says Forbes.