Do you get Uncle Fred another shirt for Christmas? What about Aunt Edna, who returns everything she unwraps? And on Christmas morning, do you smile and thank your cousin Ethel for the scarf that matches nothing in your closet?
Keeping the Christmas spirit and maintaining family relations are made possible with the advent of a little plastic card. According to Deloitte & Touche, a corporate consulting firm that surveys consumer habits, 64 percent of consumers said they intend to buy gift cards for Christmas this year, 4 percent more than a year ago. Gift cards have replaced clothing as the gift most frequently given last Christmas. The cards are favored 2-to-1 over cash, the company has found.
According to the National Retail Federation, more than 50 percent of the people they surveyed would like to receive a gift card, up by nearly 10 percent over last year. The group also predicts that gift card sales will surpass $17 billion this year.
Gary McDowell, manager of J.C. Penney Store in Westfield Shoppingtown West Park in Cape Girardeau, said he has noticed the trend toward giving gift cards but won't have any figures until after the new year.
"I've seen quite an increase over last year, and last year was a big increase over the year before that," McDowell said.
Target in Cape Girardeau is also selling more gift cards this year, according to senior team leader Jen Cecich.
"If you don't know what to get someone, give them a gift card," she said. "They can buy what they want."
Gift cards are more popular than their predecessor, the gift certificate. The Incentive Gift Certificate Council, a marketing industry group, says gift cards have become coveted gifts because they're more versatile than gift certificates and more desirable than cash. People who receive a cash gift might bank it or spend it on everyday items, but a gift card is more likely to be used to buy something special.
Even if they aren't used on something special, gift cards make it possible to give something special without creating family discord.
"If you have somebody who is hard to buy for, or there are only certain things they like, then you buy a gift card," McDowell said. "A lot of times family members will say, 'Don't get me anything; I have enough.' A gift card may be used to buy everyday stuff they may have a need for later, like towels or linens."
Other advantages of the little card:
Whatever their value is on Christmas Day, the cards will have more buying power after Christmas when items go on sale.
Stores like them because the recipients will often spend more than the card's face value when making purchases.
Stores also like them because they are easy to ring up. They also cut down on the number of after-Christmas returns and exchanges.
They're easy to tuck into a unique box or a stuffed animal for clever presentation.
They save time and cut down on shopping stress.