2007-05-10

Gift Cards?

Am I the only one that is confused by gift cards? Whoever invented this gimmick was a marketing genius. Somehow we all became convinced that people would want something worth a fixed dollar amount but can only be used at a one particular place. If you think about it, its because for that very reason that a gift card is actually less valuable than it's equivalent cash amount. And yet, we're mortified by the thought of just giving someone money -- as if it's indecent.

But, how is giving a gift card any less tacky than giving someone cash? It might even be more tacky, because you're essentially telling the recipient, "I don't really trust you to buy something you want, so instead, I'm going to give you this 20 dollar card that you have to use at Chili's." Now, in their defense, the card giver might justify his or her choice by explaining that the gift card forces the receiver to treat themselves to something they wouldn't otherwise. How is that a gift? Shouldn't you get them something they might want and or use -- since when do gifts come with lifestyle advice? Would you ever get someone a bathroom scale as a gift?

Take my dad as an example. As his children, we all complain about his love of "the Sizzler" (and, to be honest, most places he wants to eat), so we might say to ourselves, "let's get him a gift certificate to a really nice place." Well, the problem with that is assuming that money is the only reason he doesn't go to a more upscale restaurant. In reality, he likes the Sizzler because he doesn't need to make reservations, doesn't need to dress up, and it's easy to find something that suits his palate (which I find disturbing, but whatever.) If we did get him a card to a really swanky place, my dad would have to overdress, talk to a maitre' de, translate the menu, and run the risk of ordering some sort of deep fried tentacle. And the whole time this is going on, he'd be thinking to himself, "or this much money, I could have gone to the Sizzler 3 or 4 times!"

The same logic applies to most of things you think a person would do or want if they weren't so frugal, old, boring, or, in general, less like you. What's my point? Lay off the gift certificates -- you're not fooling anyone -- if "it's the thought that counts", what exactly are you saying? Gifts should not have agendas.

That said, there are certain classes of people for which a gift card is the way to go. These fall under three categories:
  1. The gift card actually costs less than it's dollar amount, as they all should.
  2. The person actually needs, enjoys, and will use the gift card at the actual place -- in which case, I will grudgingly admit that the gift card IS less tacky than giving someone a wad of cash. (Though, upon reading this, my mom demanded that we NEVER give my dad a Sizzler gift certificate, as she's sick of it, too.)
  3. The person can be classified as "unshoppable" -- and one for whom a suitable gift does not exist. Either they have everything they could possible need, or they will never be satisfied by whatever you get them. In this case, yeah, just get them a gift card, because a well thought out gift would be a waste of effort anyway.