Personal Finance

These are the top 10 best gift cards

Key Points
  • Forty-one percent of people want a gift card this year, a survey finds.
  • Some of the most valuable cards include iTunes, Starbucks and Walmart.
Gift Cards
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Handing a gift card over to a loved one this holiday season might make you feel like you took the easy way out.

Don't worry too much. Forty-one percent of people say that's exactly what they want this year, according to a new survey by WalletHub.

The desire for gift cards stems from people's bad experiences with receiving gifts, said Dan Horne, a professor of marketing and associate dean for the School of Business at Providence College. About 15 percent of Christmas gifts are never used, said Horne, who has studied giving and gift cards.

"Gifts are a communication about the state of the relationship," he said. "So when you give me a gift I don't want, it says in part that you don't know me."

The next question becomes: What gift card should you buy? Well, of course, you should think about where the person you're giving the card to likes to shop.

Gifts are a communication about the state of the relationship. So when you give me a gift I don't want, it says in part that you don't know me.
Dan Horne
Providence College

But some gift cards will go farther than others.

WalletHub looked at the best gift cards this year, factoring in the five measures: popularity, buyer discounts versus the value of that card on major gift card exchanges, resale value if the recipient doesn't want the card, the shopping experience at that retailer and the shipping cost to send that gift card.

Here are the 10 best gift cards, according to the survey:

1. iTunes
2. Starbucks
3. Walmart
4. Victoria's Secret
5. Target
6. Amazon (also the most popular gift card this year, according to WalletHub)
7. Best Buy
8. Chipotle
9. Fandango
10. Sephora

51 days till your toys now
51 days till your toys now

Read the fine print before buying network-branded gift cards such as those from Visa, Mastercard and Discover, WalletHub said. They come with purchase fees and can have inactivity fees if they're not used often. And if you've waited until the last minute, consider purchasing an e-gift card.

Horne said the beauty of gift cards is that the recipient can pick exactly what he or she wants. While his son is a rock climber in Colorado, Horne knows nothing about ropes, carabiners or cams.

"Sure I can go to REI, and talk to a lot of people and guess, but that's not hugely effective," he said. "[My son] knows exactly what he needs."

Though, he admitted, "from an economist perspective, you're shifting the search costs."

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