I once heard a comedian who did a bit about gift cards that really hit home. In his monologue, he mocked the concept of taking $100 that could be spent ANYWHERE and then exchanging it for $100 that could only be spent at one store.
I also dislike gift cards. I find them to be impersonal gifts, bordering on selfishness of the giver. Think about it. Many givers fallback option is the gift card. It makes it LOOK like they put some thought into a gift, but in reality, it is an illusion. “I think you like sports, so here is $100 to spend at Dick’s.” When you give a gift card, you are subcontracting the work to the recipient.
Another issue with gift cards is probably more personal to me, but others may also relate. I suffer from chronic frugality and the thought of buying something for the sake of buying something is counter to my lifestyle. Yesterday I roamed the aisles of @REI for about an hour lamenting a $50 gift card. There was nothing that I needed but I had $50 burning a hole in my pocket. I was browsing the store for so long that I think the staff was getting concerned. I was overwhelmed by options and suffering from analysis paralysis. It was torture for me. In the end I bought a headlamp for mountain biking. I also added a small item to max out the value of the gift card without going over!
The last problem I have with gift cards is that they are a gift that usually ends up with the recipient overspending and digging into his own pocket to complete a transaction. This does not sound like much of a gift to me. It would be like buying someone a cell phone and then letting them know they are responsible for the service.
If you want to see for yourself how much gift cards suck, slip a crisp $20 bill into a birthday card at a kid’s party and look at their face when opening.
PS – When I got home, I realized my headlamp wasn’t going to fit my helmet and I’ll be returning it and shopping all over again.