Why I don’t like gift cards as presents

I’m sitting watching TV mid-December and it’s staggering that of five advertisements I just saw, three of them were for gift cards, for Home Depot, Lowes and McDonalds. The more I think about gift cards, though, the more I really don’t like them and continue to hope that I won’t receive any this year for the holidays.
The problem is that it’s really reducing the thought of gifting down to its crass commercial component, with nothing else. There are perhaps some gift cards that aren’t quite so bad, like a Peet’s card that’s the equivalent of buying someone a dozen cups of coffee, but those are few and far between.
The worst, though, are…


Been to a Safeway store recently? I popped into one a few days ago and was startled to see what a broad range of gift cards they offer. From the Apple Music Store to Borders, you could theoretically do all your holiday shopping (or perhaps I should say “shopping” with quotes) while you’re standing in line with your latest groceries.
I can envision a time in the future where people will go to “gift card central”, pick out the gift cards they want, upload their address book, and poof! All done.
No thought, all transaction.
Or am I just being a bit of a humbug as we roll into the most intense part of the holiday buying frenzy season?

14 comments on “Why I don’t like gift cards as presents

  1. My brother likes camping and biking. I wanted to get him something related to camping or biking for X-mas. However, he doesn’t have a wife who can spy for me, or a girlfriend, so unless I break into his house when he’s not home and inventory all his gear, the only way to buy him something that will really be useful and not a duplicate of what he already has is to get him a gift card to Dick’s sporting goods. I also got the baby sitter a gift card to the mall. I always try to get something else with the gift card – for my brother I got a thing of Jiffy Pop to tape it to, and for the sitter I got a hat/gloves/scarf set (I hadn’t seen her sporting one yet, and it’s been cold). It’s not that I don’t care – it’s just that I don’t have enough information to buy them what they want or need, and I’d rather have them buy themselves something cool than buy them something that they’ll hate or that they already have.
    If that’s thoughtless, well, too damn bad.

  2. I really like it when I can give a giftcard to someplace unexpected. Somewhere that the friend or family member might not have discovered for themselves yet. Like a gift card to a new teacher supply place for my friend who homeschools. (I once got her a gift card for a scrapbooking shop because they have cool art supplies and for something like that shopping is at least half the fun…)
    Yeah, gift cards can be easy. They’re not, however, automatically thoughtless.

  3. I forgot to add… It’s also nice, for my mom friends, to include a “coupon” for free babysitting so that she can do her shopping in peace for a change. 🙂

  4. Okay, okay, I said that I wasn’t sure that my view was fully fleshed out. Maybe it’s a bit strong to say that all purchases of gift cards are de facto “thoughtless”. 🙂 The situations you present are quite logical, and indeed, using a gift card as a present for someone who you don’t know very well, like a babysitter or an employee, *is* a reasonable use. My issue is more with giving such a generic gift to someone who is a spouse or close friend…

  5. Nope.. pretty thoughtless.. but needed these days because we live in a world without real social interaction. We used to say hello when we passed someone walking into a store.. now they look away and keep talking on their cell phone.
    A gift card says, “I feel I should give you something.. but I don’t have the time to get to know you.. and rather than take a leap of faith and trust what I do know about you I’ll give you money.. because I can’t stand to waste money.. But I will tell you where you have to spend my money.. because I want you to know that money came from me.. because it isn’t the thought that counts.. it is that you know the I gave you something with $20/40/100.. and next year I expect you to give me one too.. damnit.
    I’m making whistles for people this year.
    Have a Sensational Solstice!!!

  6. I always thought that gift cards were like cash, but more limited in their use.
    But I do understand the knowing of something that a persone might like, but not being sure. A gift card can say “I’m trying”. But it can also say “You’re picky, do it yourself” or “I felt obligated”.
    It almost has to be a case-by-case judgement with gift cards. Some people will give them appropriately and some won’t.

  7. I found them usefull for one of my kids who was working in another part of the country this summer and often didn’t take the time or didn’t have the money to eat out.
    He loves Outback Steak House. So I sent him a card for it. Otherwise, he probably wouldn’t have gone there to eat.
    I do prefer to get individual gifts. But you can’t always do that. I had so little time this year to get gifts for my three nephews in New Jerssy that I had to resort to online shopping for two and getting a gift card for the third (suggestion from my sister-in-law).
    I still don’t like it though.

  8. HI, HAVE YOU CONSIDER THAT MAYBE THE GIFTER WANTS TO GIVE SOMETHING REALY NICE BUT IT’S JUST OUT OF THEIR PRICERANGE? WITH A GIFT CARD YOU CAN GET THEM CLOSER TO THE THINGS THEY REALY WANT. ALSO THEY CAN TAKE ADVANTAGE OF AFTER HOLIDAYS SALES. WE ARE DRAWING NAMES IN MY FAMILY AND WE SET A $40 LIMIT, SOME OF THE ITEMS ON THEIR WISH LIST ARE MORE THAN $40, SO I CAN GET A GIFTCARD TO THE PLASE I KNOW THEY SELL WHAT THEY WANT AND KEEP MY LIMIT. ONE TIME I WANTED SNOW BOOTS AND I GOT A GIFTCARD TO THE STORE ON THE PRICE OF THE BOOTS. I GOT THE BOOTS ON SALE, 4 PJ PANTS AND T-SHIRTS. I HAD FUN SHOPPING AND I HAD FUN TELLING THEM ALL THE THINGS I WAS ABLE TO GET THANKS TO THEIR GIFT.

  9. My fiancé is impossible to shop for. When my father asked me what to get him for Chanukah, I told him honestly that the best present you can ever get Andy is a Subway gift card.
    Andy loves to eat at Subway. If he could eat there every day, he would. In his mind, the only thing better than going to Subway is to go to Subway and not have to spend his own money. He was a pretty happy camper when my dad handed him those gift cards.
    But everyone’s different. 🙂

  10. Yes Dave, you are being a bit of a humbug. When I was a kid I always wanted the latest records (remember those) from my favorite bands. But kids these days get all their songs off of iTunes, so those iTunes gift certificates are just what they want. The fact that you can buy them for all the kids in your extended family in a couple minutes is just icing on the cake.

  11. I don’t go gift cards either. Maybe it was the way we were brought up??? I know my kids well enough to know what they like. I don’t buy for people I barely know so I don’t have the problem of them being impossible to buy for (although my husband’s getting close). If they are – well, then they can return whatever it is I bought – or regift it! I am way more of a ‘giver’ and I really enjoy seeing the expression on someone’s face as they open their presents. A gift card just wouldn’t cut it for me.

  12. I’m not sure how I feel about RECEIVING gift cards because, well, I rarely receive one!
    HOWEVER, as an uncle of over a dozen nieces and nephews (ages 3 mos – 40 years), I’ve found myself going the gift card route more and more. Mom & Dad tell me the kids’ favorite stores. I order the cards online (the family is scattered across North America), email them to the respective Mom and Dad, who wrap them up and put them under the tree.
    Since I have no children of my own, I’m absolutely LOST when it comes to buying something for today’s teenager or college student. But now I get actual thank you notes (really!) from my nieces/nephews excitedly telling me what they bought with their cards. They’re happy, and I remain their “favorite Uncle John”. (I must add, in all due disclosure, I’m their ONLY Uncle John, but such is beside the point!)

  13. i have a friend and i help her with the kids and i love those kids so much.and i wish the mother can see how much i love her she is a great mother and she mean alot to me i hope this letter gets around becaues i want her to know that i love her and i hope she gets this too ur friend maria
    this for u michelle roy

  14. I think the message gift cards truly send is, “I know that your tastes are specific, and I love and respect you enough to not try to guess what you like. Here is a gift card to a store I know for sure you like to shop at, and you can buy something you love.”

    I know this topic is a few years old, but I just stumbled on it.

    I am a huge fan of gift cards. Why? Because shopping for people is hard, and it’s stressful…and it takes a lot of time. During Christmas, it takes away from enjoying the season.

    Most of my family and friends actually request gift cards…and it increases every year. My guess is that they are tired of returning well-intentioned “meaningful” gifts that ended up being way off the mark. I know I am. If you gave something to a person who ended up exchanging it, what you really gave them was an errand. If they keep it out of guilt, then you wasted your money on a material burden.

    What’s also annoying, is that those who don’t like gift cards, also tend to not like lists. No, don’t try to guess what people want…just let them tell you what they want. If they don’t know for sure, but like certain stores – gift card!

    My mother-in-law doesn’t like gift cards or lists. She’s always buying me gnomes, or something gnome related. She thinks it’s being thoughtful to what I like…I actually think it’s lazy. I also don’t like gnomes THAT much…so now I have this collection that I can’t get rid of, and don’t know what to do with. She also likes to give me scented lotions…even though I know I have mentioned that I can’t wear or use scented body products. Again, not exactly thoughtful, but at least she didn’t give me a gift card!

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