Giving and Receiving Gift Cards

As the biggest holiday season of the year approaches, more people have asked me whether giving gift cards is good etiquette. I say yes, primarily because times have changed. There was a time, people considered gift cards the lazy person’s way to giving a gift. Today, it can be quite the opposite, as long as both the giver and receiver follow these 8 guidelines:

For the Giver

1.  Be selective. Choose a gift card from a store you think the receiver will like, based on his or her interests, likes, and dislikes. To be sure, view the store’s website to see items you think the person will want and enjoy.

Sometimes a surprise gift card can work out. I once received a $50 gift card to a high-end electronic store, to which I had never been. My initial thought was, “What the heck am I going to get?” To my surprise, I not only found something I truly wanted, but my husband and I continue to use it years later. I would never have thought to purchase the item otherwise.

You can also give a gift bank card that lets receivers purchase whatever they want from any store. However, you can’t control how the receiver will use. For all you know, he or she might need to pay bills. Don’t be offended if this is the case.

2.  Wrap the card distinctively. It’s more fun to receive a gift card when it is wrapped in a way that shows someone took some time to package it. If you don’t want to wrap it, place it in a personalized handmade–or store bought–card that describes the specific occasion for the gift, such as holiday, birthday, wedding, or thank-you.

3.  Add a personalized message. Say why you chose a card to a specific store. Perhaps mention items you saw on the store’s website as suggestions to consider. By sharing the reasons you chose this gift giving and store, it will show you gave the gift some thought.

4.  Enclose the gift card receipt. About six months after I gave someone a gift card, the receiver contacted me, asking whether I still had the receipt, because she had misplaced it. Luckily, I purchased the card via credit card, so I got it tracked and reissued.

On the off chance the store’s activation process for the card does not work, the receipt will help get the card properly and easily activated. When purchasing multiple gift cards, ask the cashier for individual receipts to attach to each card.

For the Receiver

5.  Keep all gift cards in a safe place. Mark each card with the name of the giver, for what purpose, and the date. This way you will remember who gave you this gift, especially if it’s months later when you finally redeem the card.

6.  Send a quick email. When you don’t redeem the gift card right away, send the giver a quick email to acknowledge and thank them for the gift. Tell the giver you will write them again as soon you redeem it. For the giver, there is nothing worse than giving a gift card, never hearing from the receiver again, and never knowing what he or she purchased with the card. This is one of the biggest drawbacks to giving gift cards.

7.  Send a handwritten thank-you note. Once you redeem the card, send the giver a handwritten thank-you note that shares what you purchased. This tip is key. It shows your appreciation for the gift and how much you enjoyed buying a specific item you truly wanted.

A few years back my husband and I combined several cards to purchase an air purifier we had wanted for some time. It took a few months, yet when we finally got it and sent a thank-you note to each person, they told us how much they appreciated knowing what we purchased, and that it was something useful and something we wanted.

 8.  Mark the gift. It’s hard to remember who gave us a gift card and for what occasion. The final step to honoring those who gave us gift cards is to mark the actual items or keep a list of the names and items purchased. This is especially good when cards are combined for a larger purchase.

Bonus: To keep everyone sane, I’m seeing new and innovative styles of gift giving. Some families pick names out of a hat to give one gift to a specific family member. Others bring one generic gift from which each person picks a number to choose a gift. Gift exchanges are encouraged.

Or you might consider sending a group email to your family or friends, asking everyone to agree to only give gift cards to a store each person selects. This way, a low amount won’t matter as much. This system allows receivers to pool and purchase one or more gifts they truly want, use, and will enjoy.

Happy Gift Giving!

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