Technology makes already-convenient gift cards more convenient [ARTICLE]

Amazon gift cardGift cards have become one of the most popular gift-giving options during the holiday season. In fact, according to Deloitte and Touche USA, 64 percent of shoppers say they plan to buy gift cards this year. If you’re a noobie with gift cards on your shopping list, here are some tips and information to help keep your season bright.

Why buy gift cards?

In recent years, gift cards have soared in popularity. Their convenience, for gift givers and receivers, is a big selling point, but perhaps another reason is that people have their eye on more expensive gifts. Technology-related gifts also continue to grow in popularity, but they may carry a price tag too hefty for a single gift giver.

Best of all, by giving gift cards you know loved ones won’t be standing in long return lines after Christmas. But, even gift cards aren’t one-size-fits-all.

Where to buy gift cards

Gift cards have become ubiquitous. Nearly every store offers them. Can’t get to a particular store? Stop at a grocery or drug store and pick from a wide selection of gift cards for restaurants and retailers. Not sure what store to choose? Get a gift card that can be redeemed at a shopping mall or a Visa gift card that you can exchange for wares virtually anywhere.

GiftCertificates.com

Many stores with an online presence also offer convenient options for purchasing gift cards. Some sites sell gift cards exclusively. The online store www.giftcertificates.com sells their popular SuperCertificater that the recipient can exchange for original gift cads from hundreds of stores, spas, restaurants, theaters and hotels, and it never expires.

What to know when buying gift cards online

Buying gift cards online makes a convenient gift even more convenient. Plus, if you’re shopping for people who live far away, it may be safer than enclosing a physical gift card with your snail-mailed holiday greetings. (A plastic gift card is like cash in the hand of whoever holds it—even if it’s not the person you intended.)

There are a couple of pitfalls to watch for when buying online gift cards. With today’s technology and the amount of competition for your gift card dollars, they shouldn’t come with expiration dates or maintenance fees.

Secondly, look closely at delivery costs. Most vendors will deliver your plastic gift card for free. Others may charge you $4 or $5 to mail the card. If the fee includes a nice package and your own personal holiday wishes, then perhaps the charge is worthwhile to you. On the other hand, perhaps the recipient would rather have $5 more added to the card!

Electronic gift cards are an excellent option, especially for the last-minute shopper. At stores like www.amazon.com, you pay for a gift card online and then they e-mail it, immediately or on a future date that you select (up to a year in advance), directly to the recipient. Amazon.com also lets you use your home printer to print a copy of an e-card, in case you need something for your niece before she visits tomorrow.

Electronic gift cards are delivered with all the instructions recipients need to redeem them. Before you buy, see where the electronic gift card can be redeemed—some are accepted online only and not at a retailer’s brick and mortar stores. If this is the case, you’ll want to make sure your recipient enjoys shopping online.

When gift cards are lost or stolen

When you purchase a gift card for someone, either online or at a store; paper, plastic or electronic, keep your receipt and any other confirmation-related communication. Most stores will require the purchaser to access this information if a gift card is lost or stolen. Now, let’s hope your niece will own up when her card gets misplaced.