The 10 Best Gift Cards
10. QVC Gift Card
- works online and through the tv
- wide variety of goods
- won't work at qvc retail stores
|Rating||3.7 / 5.0|
9. Lowe's Home Improvement Center
- lost cards can be replaced
- can be used online
- small amounts aren't offered
|Rating||4.1 / 5.0|
8. Staples Gift Card
- useful for students or professionals
- great for door prizes and birthdays
- limit of 5 cards online
|Brand||Staples Gift Card|
|Rating||4.1 / 5.0|
7. AMC Theatres
- comes gift-wrapped
- perfect for any occasion
- no returns or refunds
|Rating||3.5 / 5.0|
6. Subway Gift Card
- 26000 locations across the us
- no fees for using it
- rewards points expire after 3 years
|Rating||4.4 / 5.0|
5. Outback Steakhouse
- can be returned for any reason
- works for bills and tips
- lost or stolen cards not replaced
|Rating||4.2 / 5.0|
4. Panera Bread
- online menu available
- good gift for the traveler
- not ideal for gluten-free shoppers
|Rating||4.2 / 5.0|
3. Whole Foods Gift Card
- great for catering orders
- easily reload card
- earns user reward points
|Brand||Whole Foods Market|
|Rating||5.0 / 5.0|
2. Starbucks Gift Card
- stores all over the globe
- available in various amounts
- very well known brand
|Rating||4.9 / 5.0|
1. Amazon Gift Card
- keeps track of how much used
- a myriad of card designs available
- never expires and no fees
|Rating||4.9 / 5.0|
A Brief History Of Gift Cards
While they are now a ubiquitous feature of any celebration that includes gift-giving, gift cards have actually only existed since the 1990s. The proto-gift card was the gift certificate, which many retailers and restaurants have offered for decades. These work like store credit purchased on behalf of another individual, who is then presented with some sort of receipt on which the value is recorded.
The gift card's more immediate predecessor came from American Express, which introduced gift cheques in 1988. These allowed recipients to use them like cash at many retail stores, as well as at restaurants and hotels, and are still available today. They can only be used for a single purchase, and if you don't spend the full value, you must claim the remaining sum in cash from the business where you redeem it.
The first technical gift card was introduced by the video rental chain Blockbuster in late 1994. The idea for the card was born as an attempt to combat the losses they were suffering at the time from customers using counterfeit gift certificates in their stores. They displayed them at checkout in order to familiarize customers with the new format. The department store Neiman Marcus was quick to follow suit, and adoption by other stores spread quickly through the remainder of the decade.
The first wave of major retailers to offer cards to their customers included the Gap, Macy's, and Bloomingdales. The cards were particularly successful at clothing stores because of the difficulty of approximating a gift recipient's proper size. Visa was the first credit card company to offer gift cards that worked like cash and could be redeemed anywhere, much like American Express's gift cheques. Starbucks introduced gift cards that retained their value from one purchase to the next in 2001. Most cards up until that point could only be used once, with the remaining value usually offered in cash upon redemption.
For the first decade or so of their existence, gift cards we subject to virtually no regulations by the US government. Some stores, including Home Depot and the Sharper Image exploited this by tacking fees on to the purchase or use of the cards. After a series of lawsuits, the first regulations emerged in 2002 in New York and California, though it took another two years before the federal Fair Gift Card Act was introduced. The measure mandated hidden-fee disclosures and was the first of many major regulations put in place.
In 2009, Congress passed the CARD Act, which requires retailers to honor gift cards for at least five years after purchase. Up to that point, may stores had expiration dates printed on cards upon manufacture, and customers were often unaware that they were liable to lose their value if not used quickly.
Today, gift cards are the most common gift given in the United States, and their worldwide popularity is only growing. Americans spent an estimated $46 billion on them in 2016, and global sales that year exceed $100 billion. In many cases, gift-givers eschew actual cards in favor of digital credit which can be purchased and redeemed online or in-store via a mobile app, depending on the retailer.
Why Gift Cards Are So Popular
Everybody knows what it feels like to spend hours looking for the perfect gift, only to settle for something that's just good enough. But the thing about giving a gift that isn't perfect is that, while it may be a nice gesture, it often becomes a burden for the recipient. Maybe it's a sweater in the wrong size, or a vase or serving plate that doesn't quite match their taste.
Regardless of the reason it's not ideal, a mediocre gift often demands that the recipient either exchange, repurpose, or re-gift it. Rather than running the risk of giving someone something they don't want, gift cards allow you the opportunity to give them exactly what they want, without having to know what it is. It saves everyone time, because you don't have to search painstakingly for the right thing. Instead, you can usually just pick one up at checkout at a convenience store or buy it online.
Gift cards occupy a protected space in the gift ecosystem. They work like cash, but while giving cash is often considered gauche, there is no such stigma associated with the cards. If you know where someone likes to shop, giving them a gift card can even be thoughtful, because it shows you had their interests in mind. And, thanks to modern innovation, if you do end up with a gift card you don't want, there are plenty of online marketplaces where you can sell or exchange it for one you do, all from the comfort of your own home.
Many corporate rewards programs also use gift cards in place of cash. In addition, online surveys and market research firms often offer users and participants gift cards in exchange for their time and opinions.
The Dark Side Of The Gift Card Industry
Since gift cards gained popularity in the 1990s, the industry has been plagued by money laundering and fraud. At one time, this effected consumers directly, because corporations were using hidden fees and expiration dates to exploit them. Nowadays, protections are in place to prevent that from happening.
Up to 10 percent of gift cards go unredeemed, resulting in billions of dollars in gains for the retailers that sell them. While not technically illegal, it is a bit exploitative of retailers to allow cards to expire or make them difficult to replace if lost or stolen. Recent legislation aims to recoup some of that value for local and federal governments.
Gift cards are popular tools of credit card fraud as well. Because they are generally anonymous, gift cards are often purchased with stolen credit cards in order to store money in an untraceable way once the cards are shut down. For similar reasons, they are also frequently used in money laundering schemes.