I consider the gift certificate to be the most impersonal, offensive, lazy and just downright awful gift for the holidays. Buying someone a gift card is like telling them, "I don't care enough about you to spend any time figuring out what you really want or any time finding it."
Yes, there's the appeal of being able to pick out your own present, as long as it's at the store that issued the gift certificate. But you could give the gift of cash and it would be like a gift certificate, only better because you can spend it anywhere!
So why is it that 55% of consumers say they want to get gift cards for the holidays according an Archstone Consulting survey? I can understand why people give each other gift certificates. It's the lazy-man's present, an afterthought you can buy while you're shopping for yourself. But how on earth have we conditioned ourselves to actually want these things more than anything else?
Here's my guess: people don't really want gift cards. They want money. But, of course, you can't ask for money. We only consider that a gift if it comes from our parents or grandparents. Oh, and it's considered appropriate to give cash gifts to say, your doorman.
Giving money to a friend, on the other hand, that we consider rude. I think it's silly, but until they make me dictator there's not much I can do about it.
Gift certificates are a way to give the gift of cash in disguise. But it's not just that. Cash is objectively a better present than a Best Buy gift card for the equivalent amount of money, but the whole practice of gift giving would break down if we all gave each other dollars for Christmas, Chanukah or Kwanzaa. If everyone gave each other money for the holidays, either we'd all give the same amount and it would be like nothing happened, or worse, some people would give more than others, making everyone else feel bad about being cheap.
I guess that makes gift certificates a necessary evil. That said, if you want to buy your friends and family something that shows a lot more thought and costs less money, I suggest going to a used book store and picking out titles that you think the recipients will like.
It's the ultimate holiday bang for your buck, making you look great for being so thoughtful and considerate, while costing you very little. After all, at the end of the day, isn't the spirit of giving all about making yourself look good?
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