APU Business Original

Don’t Knock Gift Cards: You Can Purchase What You Want

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By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Dean, School of Business

In 2020, we were challenged to face many new things and do things that we thought we would never have to do. I grew up excited about the prospect of buying unique gifts for loved ones at Christmas. The best part was the preparation. I would shop for those unique items that family members hinted about and wrap them with that extra-special touch.

However, this year was different. I found myself leaning toward a practice that I used to look down on – gift cards. In my mind, giving a gift card was the “lazy” way out, and they did not show love. 

I found myself extremely busy this year with new tasks due to the pandemic, and I did not have the time to do personal shopping. I only purchased gifts for a few people because all other family members wanted gift cards.

Why the sudden change of heart? The children are now pre-teens and want to pick out their gifts themselves by putting several cards together to purchase what they want. Adults, struggling to make ends meet, desired a gift card to stores that they frequented regularly – coffee shops, gas stations and groceries, for example.

I was not alone. It seems like other people made the same decision when it came to gift-giving this year.

Bloomberg: More Americans Will Buy Gift Cards This Holiday Season

Bloomberg forecast that Americans will buy more gift cards this holiday season and expect a 19% increase in gift card purchases compared to last year. Why the popularity and why now? What did I learn by giving gift cards rather than actual gifts?

  • I would have purchased what I thought they needed versus what they wanted. The gift card gives my family the opportunity to buy a gift that they would use and not re-gift.
  • I asked each family member to give me the names of two stores that they loved. Then, I took the money that I had set aside for their gifts and split the amount on a gift card at each of the two stores. Because I have family worldwide, I discovered regional stores that I had never heard of and would never have thought to purchase a gift from.
  • A couple of my family members celebrated birthdays in November. Combining their birthday present and Christmas present gift cards…what an excellent way to “save up” for their big “dream” purchase!
  • Many stores offered a choice of purchasing an actual gift card, which would have required mailing it to the recipient, or buying an e-gift card to send to the recipient’s email address or as a text message. While sending an e-gift card was attractive and convenient, I experienced problems and errors with a third of the e-gift cards, including delays in delivery and some were sent to me, instead of to the intended recipients.
  • The children loved the feeling of having a “credit” card. Could this practice be a way of teaching youngsters to save up for what they want?

Despite the errors, I believe I have found a new way of shopping for others. One of the best feelings came when I saw the look on the face of my family members. They were as happy with the cards as when I gave them actual gifts. And I saved time for myself in the process.

Retailers win, too. Customers are not returning unwanted presents the day after Christmas. Instead, they are using their cards to purchase things they truly want, possibly even adding cash to buy them, which equates to more revenue and less returned stock.

That is what I call a win-win scenario!

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Dean of the School of Business at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist, and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of experience.

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