Gift Cards are so pointless!

January 5, 2011 in Blogging, Social/Political Commentary by pacejmiller

I was just down at the post office to pick up a package that had been sitting there for a couple of weeks (thanks to the flawless efficiency of Australia Post) and noticed the incredible variety of gift cards on display.

Really, it was crazy.  According to the Australia Post website, there are over 40 brands of ‘high profile gift cards’ ranging from Country Road to Angus & Robertson to Event Cinemas to iTunes to freaking AMF Bowling, and range in value from $20 to $200.

I have received and given gift cards before, as much as I am ashamed to admit, but seriously, what is the point of them?  If you are going to be lazy enough to not pick out a specific gift for someone, why not just give them cash?

There are a host of reasons why a company might want to offer gift cards for their stores, products and services (and these are listed at the Australia Post website here), but why would anyone want to give or receive a gift card when a much better alternative (ie cash) is available?

A specific gift means you actually put some thought into what that person wants or you think they might want.  It also has the advantage of disguising how much you spent on them (provided you remembered to remove the price tag).

Contrast that to the mighty gift card.  First off, it shows you didn’t put much thought into the gift, if any.  I don’t care so I’ll just give them a gift card for somewhere and they can go buy something there.  Secondly, it tells the receiver exactly how much you spent on them, to the cent.  There’s no more passing off a $100 gift you spent $30 on (because you got it on sale).

But the most illogical thing about gift cards is that they are awfully presumptuous of the giver because they assume that the receiver would actually want to purchase something from a particular store.  Or perhaps, they think the receiver should get something from a particular store, or watch a movie, or go bowling, or read a book, or buy a song.  It locks them in.  Forces them to spend money on something they might not really want.

Which begs the question — why not just give cash?  Let’s face it — given the same value, we would all rather have cash than a stupid gift card.  It’s exactly like a gift card, except you can spend it wherever you want, whenever you want, or you don’t have to spend it at all!  It’s also less presumptuous, and unlike gift cards, you can actually get change back when you purchase something less than the full value (rather than a silly voucher for next time).

Think about it.  Are gift cards really that much less impersonal than cash?  Does the fact that you went down to the post office (or store) and thought about which card to get offset the obvious disadvantages of a gift card?  Have we all been duped by this now massive industry that is in fact completely pointless?