I originally published this post in August 2010, but with Christmas (yes – I call it CHRISTMAS, not “the holidays”) just around the corner, I thought it would be a great time to once again mull over The Case of the Great Gift Card Giver.
To some, gift cards are not gifts. I’ll never forget this article I came across on MSN Money a few years back, where the author bashed those who dared to dole out plastic presents:
“A gift, ideally, says, ‘I thought about you. I considered your likes and dislikes, your needs and wants, your dreams and desires, and found you this token of my esteem that I hope will delight you.’
A gift card says, ‘There! Checked you off my list.'”
She even went on to quote the esteemed Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners), stating that gift cards are “a pathetic compromise that is convenient to people who do not trust their judgment about selecting the right present for those whose tastes they ought to know.”
I couldn’t disagree more.
Unless you’re 14 years old and know the absolute contents of your best friend’s locker, bedroom and closet, chances are it may be tricky to find the perfect gift. Sure, I know that my brother likes to draw, but if you’ve ever ventured into DeSerres, you’ll know that their “Fine Arts” section is four aisles across and boasts over 460 drawing tools alone.
Gift card, please.
Yes, gift cards are convenient. And they (inconveniently) let the recipient know exactly how much you spent on them. But to me, gift cards do convey a special thoughtfulness; as in, “I thought you’d like to pick out something you actually want. You’re welcome.”
Also, isn’t the new trend of gift receipts just an unwanted step in the gift-giving dance?
1. Jack wants to buy Jill a gift.
2. Jack isn’t sure Jill will like the gift, so he asks for a gift receipt with his purchase. This enclosure will allow Jill to exchange the gift, or – wait for it – BE ISSUED A GIFT CARD to be used at a later date.
I like gift cards. I prefer to give them as gifts 9 times out of 10 (except for little ones – shopping for toys and cute clothing is half the fun!). Perhaps my favourite quote on the subject is from Evelyn Harper of Two and a Half Men, when reproved by Allan for writing her grandson a cheque for his birthday gift, replied:
“You told me he likes Transformers. This cheque transforms into anything he wants.”
This season, I’m all about the 3 C’s: cash, cheques and cards of the gifting variety. And have you ever considered purchasing gift cards for yourself? There are several ways that you can be card smart and save $$$:
1. Check your local Kijiji or Craigslist. Many recipients of gift cards are looking to unload them, offering savings to you (amount varies by seller). Most will agree to conduct the transaction in front of the store, allowing you to confirm the gift card amount before buying. An easier option is to simply take a cell phone with you and call the number on the back of most gift cards – you’ll be able to retrieve the current value in under a minute. However, if the seller gives you the tracking number before hand, be sure to confirm once again immediately prior to purchase (you can’t be sure they didn’t go on a shopping spree in the meantime).
2. Canadians can visit sites like cardSwap.ca, an online gift card exchange. All gift cards are verified with the issuing merchant before they are listed on cardSwap, and there are no extra costs for buyers. The seller is required to ship your card within three (3) days of purchase, and if you do not receive your card after 14 days of purchase your money will be refunded in full. The gift card value is guaranteed by cardSwap for 21 days after the transaction takes place, allowing you peace of mind.
3. Check daily deals websites. While not actually gift cards – they’re coupons – you can still save a substantial amount at places that you frequent for goodies. Two words: GAP GROUPON. However, there are more restrictions tied to these coupons (such as redemption clauses and expiration dates), but most deal seekers are happy to oblige to save 50% or more.
Speaking of expiration dates: As of October 1, 2007, Ontario prohibited adding expiry dates to gift cards in Ontario. Check your local regulations to see if a similar law is in place.
4. Trade in rewards points for gift cards. A few nights ago, I was lamenting to my husband the lack of selection with RBC Rewards. Truth is, the selection is formidable – they just didn’t have anything I was interested in at the moment. Then I noticed that you can redeem 30,000 points for a $250 gift card at a plethora of merchants including Sears, HBC, Future Shop, Starbucks, RONA and more. I’ll lament no more.
Nice to know: As of 2009, 92% of all major retailers in Canada offer gift cards. Happy shopping!