Gift Cards Galore!

By Martin Brown

gift cards on displayRetail gift cards, which have become increasingly popular with holiday shoppers in recent years, are still a good idea this Christmas even with the slow economy.

Gift cards are a quick and easy way to give a gift of any amount to friends and loved ones who are regulars at almost any retailer. From Starbucks, to Blockbuster, from Nordstrom to Safeway or Barnes & Noble, if it’s something you can buy, chances are that you could find a gift card way of saying “Happy Holidays, now go buy your own gift!”

Even the airlines got into the act with their own branded gift cards.

Things to keep in mind when buying gift cards:

1. The overall economy is still slow and that takes a toll of the amount of the gift card many of us can buy.

Last year’s $50 gift card is perhaps this year’s $35 card.

2. Gift cards never go on sale.

After all, a dollar is still a dollar. But everything else in retail stores this holiday season is marked down. So, for example,  that $100 cashmere pullover is now $65. You can give like a big spender and still shop on a budget.

3. Will the retailers honor those gift cards?

Gift Cards Galore!Linens & Things, Circuit City, and The Sharper Image are just a few of the retailers who’ve suffered economic instability and bankruptcy in the past couple of years. For consumers, the thought that your gift card’s value could vanish is of course unsettling. Your best hedge against a retailer’s default is to buy a MasterCard or Visa branded gift card; or to purchase a gift card from a retailer that has unquestioned standing in the marketplace, such as a Wal-Mart or Target stores.

If you do receive one or more gift cards this year, my advice is to hold on to them until January, when retail prices take another dip.  And if you insist on playing Santa with gift cards, check out the financial stability of the retailer before you buy…

…Or, again, play it safe and give a Visa or MasterCard bank-backed gift card to say, “Happy Holidays!”