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How to Use Gift Cards Fluently - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
How to Use Gift Cards Fluently
Gift cards are a modern convenience. Some people love them, others hate them. Here are some ideas on using them to best advantage ...

Types of Gift Cards

Gift cards may be restricted to a single establishment or offer a choice of several. Single-store cards are the least flexible, but may offset that with a larger discount or other perks. Some large corporations offer a card that is good at all their subsidiaries, which may include many different types of stores and restaurants. Malls and other shopping centers often have a collective card good for any store or other business on their premises. Yiftree's Community Gift Card links participating merchants within a given area. A whole different branch holds the bank cards, related to credit cards, which are good anywhere that uses a specific payment network such as MasterCard. These are among the most flexible, and some have a far higher limit (up to $5000) than store gift cards (rarely more than $500). However, they're also the most prone to hidden fees.

Cards may be single-use or reloadable. Some bank cards are reloadable, others not. Some single establishment categories are very often reloadable such as restaurant, music, gas, or phone cards. These are ideal if you wish to help support someone over time, such as a college student, aging parent, or long-distance friend. It also works great for anyone who's a huge fan of a particular place.

Don't forget other things which are analogs of gift cards. On a few occasions I've had one fan pass me a donation earmarked for "whatever so-and-so wants." Then I just mark the poem "sponsored by A as a gift for B." Many crafters and other creative folks will do things like this, even if they don't have the plastic kind of gift cards or paper certificates, so ask.

Here's a look at several types of promotional gift cards used by small businesses such as retail, mall, and gas cards.

Browse a chart showing the best gift cards scored by poularity, discount, resale value, retailer rating, and shipping fees.

Tips for Buyers

Think about how well you know the recipient. If you know their favorite stores, check which one offers the best deal on gift cards and get that. If you don't know the person well, then either get a card that can be used many places, or a card for a place that sells many different things such as a mall or department store.

Consider what the recipient wants or needs. For holidays or birthdays, many people like luxuries they wouldn't buy for themselves, so consider cards for a nice restaurant, an upscale boutique, a massage or spa, etc. When someone moves, has a baby, lands in the hospital, or some other life event upsets their budget then a card for basics or a flexible card is most welcome.

Try to pick a unique card if multiple choices are available. Big stores like supermarkets, bank cards, and online hubs all tend to offer a dozen or more options. It's a lot easier for a recipient to distinguish between cards that have different art on them.

Some gift cards have a protection plan so they can be reported lost or stolen, thus freezing the balance and transferring it to a new card. This makes them safer than cash -- and a good option for youth, elders, or others with difficulty keeping track of things.

If you routinely give cards, then consider keeping a small selection of your favorites (supermarket, best local restaurant, etc.) in a card organizer for use on occasions when you suddenly need a gift. Cards for a local restaurant or supermarket also make perfect gifts for homeless or similarly distressed people, while still giving you a little influence over the easiest way to use that resource. For this, get the kind of gift cards that either don't expire or have a very long lead time; 5 years is common.

Gift cards are also great when you have an externally applied budget, such as a gift exchange where everyone is supposed to spend $10. The flexibility is also an asset, and for this reason, some organizations have a gift card exchange among their members instead of specific gifts. Everyone gets something they'll like, and you've all spent almost exactly the same amount (allowing for small variations in fees).

When shopping for local recipients, use the opportunity to support local businesses. Many crafters and other specialists offer great goods and services that are a little pricier than most people want to spend on themselves. These make ideal gifts. A particularly brilliant plan is Yiftree's Community Gift Card which links participating merchants in your town -- the card is good at any of them.

Use gift cards to extend your reach. Your long-distance friend is moving? Housewarming cards include bank cards and store cards for home-improvement places. Someone's getting hitched? Wedding cards include bank cards, craft stores for pre-wedding supplies, and spoil-yourself honeymoon goodies. The stork is coming? Baby cards include bank cards, child-specific things like the Children's Place, and this brilliant plan of matching cards for older sibling(s) and new baby. Just because you personally can't haul boxes or babysit, doesn't mean you can't help.

If you can't go shopping together for health, distance, or other limitations, consider a virtual shopping trip. Send a gift card. Arrange a time you'll both be available. Your recipient can chat on the phone with you and/or send you snapshots of possible gifts while in the store! I have seen people doing that more and more often. For some folks, it's a valuable way to stay in touch. Just because you can't be there in person needn't prevent you from sharing the joys of "Ooo, that blue one would match your favorite sweater," or "Aaa, no, the flowered one makes you look like a couch!"

Conversely, if you are shopping for someone who has trouble getting to stores, choose an online merchant. Many places will now deliver clothes, groceries, and other essentials. Amazon will deliver darn near anything. Gift cards from these providers make life much more convenient for the shopping or travel challenged population. Some even offer electronic gift cards so you don't need to mess with a plastic one.

Remember presentation. Gift cards often come with an envelope, but you can also buy fun frames or even puzzle boxes. For children, you might put it in a box with a handful of coins or bells to make it jingle, or a package of candy, so they have some fun when opening it. Traditionally a purse or wallet should never be presented empty, so consider a gift card instead of the usual coin or dollar bill.

Tips for Recipients

Gift cards have their pros and cons, so some folks like them and others don't. Let people know whether or not you like gift cards. If you like them, it helps to list your favorite type(s) of cards and/or stores. Some folks feel that gift cards are rude, while others are merely uncertain. You're unlikely to budge anyone who thinks it's a horrible thing to do, but you can usually tip someone who simply doesn't know if you'd like it.

If someone in your circle is awful at picking gifts, you may gently open the topic of other approaches. Gift cards are only one; hiring a personal shopper, going shopping together, or pooling funds with a more skilled gifter can also work.

Organize your gift cards. If Aunt April sends you a card with flowers on it, you might use that for garden supplies and Aunt June's confetti card for craft supplies. Try to remember whose card you use to buy which gifts.

Use gift cards promptly unless you are saving matched ones for a specific big-ticket item. This minimizes the risk of losing or forgetting about them.

When you pick out your gifts, let the sender know what they bought for you. This closes the loop and makes it more fun than if the gift card just disappears into a black hole. You can wear/carry the item the next time you see the sender (good for locals), write a thank-you note (good for baby or wedding cards), make a phone call (good for family and close friends), or post snapshots/descriptions online (good for your social-network friends). Over time, they may figure out what you like if you consistently treat yourself to the same things. Posting online also gives you a chance to share the fun with your other friends who aren't at that gift-giving occasion.

Gift cards also give you an idea what the other person considers reasonable to spend. Bear in mind that some relationships are inherently unequal -- parents will usually spend more on their kids, and a friend with a high-paying job may enjoy spreading the bounty. But most gifts are exchanged among people who want to stay fairly close in level. If your jogging buddy customarily gives you a $20 gift card, that's a good target whether you buy an individual gift or a card. And if you choose a card, make it for a different place than yours was for.

If you're opening gifts at an occasion such as birthday, holidays, a party, etc. and you come to a gift card, then try riffing a few ideas what you will do with it. If you're getting a lot of them, jot down the ideas the envelopes -- although you may change your mind if you get four cards for the same place that'll let you buy the expensive crib nobody picked up. This is another way to show people that giving gift cards is okay and welcome. Plus it's fun to brainstorm, because people may have seen things at that store which you haven't noticed. "Oh, you got one for the sporting goods store, have you seen their new camo prints? They're sorted by tree species!"

What are some of your ideas regarding gift cards?

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15 comments or Leave a comment
cat_sanctuary From: cat_sanctuary Date: December 15th, 2017 07:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
#Amazon giftcards are a quick way to get new books onto my book blog. I like advance copies and galleys, too, but can use giftcards to buy new books *as* new books and keep those reviews up on Amazon.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 15th, 2017 07:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes ...

That's a good plan.

ARCs, if I don't want to keep them, can go in the hobbit-housewarming-box for people to take. But I never sell them and I don't give them away until after the release date.
cat_sanctuary From: cat_sanctuary Date: December 15th, 2017 07:50 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes ...

If they had no personal sentimental value, I think ARCs and galleys would be worth keeping...y'never know which writers' stuff will gain market value in the future.

I've been reproved for posting about advance copies before publication, although what I posted mentioned that it was advance publicity and the books should be ordered from the writers and/or booksellers. Right. I don't do that any more. Both Blogspot and Live Journal have the advance scheduling feature, so reviews of advance copies can be scheduled for the date of publication. Amazon likes that, and it's less confusing to non-writers who spun conspiracy theories out of Amazon's displaying advance reviews...

(Worth going into this for any new people referred here via Twitter, yes.)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 15th, 2017 07:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes ...

>>If they had no personal sentimental value, I think ARCs and galleys would be worth keeping...y'never know which writers' stuff will gain market value in the future. <<

Sure, there are some for that, but it quickly reached a point where I could not keep every piece of written material that came into the house. Some of it is literally less value than the shelf/box space it takes up.

>> I've been reproved for posting about advance copies before publication <<

?? I thought the whole point of ARCs was to tell people what is about to hit the shelves so they can budget for it.
cat_sanctuary From: cat_sanctuary Date: December 15th, 2017 08:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

(re-posted for crossposting to Twitter--nobody missed anything)

Yes, isn't that strange? Nevertheless, a publisher who saw my review of the review copy asked me to put it on hold until the publication date, so I did. Nobody has objected to advance notices about new (or international) books in the "Correspondents' Choice" feature I've started doing, though--only to a full-length review.

It's not a problem if the publisher is confident enough to appreciate an advance review!

("Correspondents' Choice" leaves room for things I've never seen and may never see. With friends' Amazon Associate/Affiliate links, even.)
unmutual From: unmutual Date: December 16th, 2017 03:14 am (UTC) (Link)
I remember, long ago in what seems like another life, trying to explain to my then-mother-in-law why I wanted a gift card to the arts-and-crafts store for my birthday.

Her: What do you want though?
Me: A gift card would be perfect.
Her: Aw, no, I don't want to just give you a gift card, I want to give you a present.
Me: But--
Her: What do you need? Paint? Brushes? Paper? Just tell me and I'll get it.

I couldn't make her understand that what I *wanted* was the present of wandering around the store for an hour or two, holding the gift card, knowing I could buy *anything* and getting to choose it...
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 16th, 2017 03:19 am (UTC) (Link)

Aww ...

Sometimes it's that they don't understand the appeal of the card.

Other times it's because giving a card doesn't give them any pleasure in generosity -- the joy of shopping for a specific gift.

One of the more fun times I've had was wandering around a yarn store for an hour, picking things out for fibercraft friends. I love yarn, but I don't knit or crochet, and I'm allergic to wool. However, I can still pick out fabulous things for other folks, because I know what kinds of yarn are desirable. Confetti wool. Self-patterning Fair Isle. Cloud-soft alpaca. :D
unmutual From: unmutual Date: December 16th, 2017 03:22 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Aww ...

In my ex-MIL's case, gift cards were just considered thoughtless presents, like you copped out by not trying to think of - and then acquire - what the person would really love. (She was not very good at this for me, so um. There's that.)

But yes, it's definitely fun to buy for someone when you're being thoughtful about it!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 16th, 2017 03:28 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Aww ...

Gift cards can be thoughtless if you don't put any thought into them, or if you give a gift card to one person but chosen gifts to other similar folks. But any gift someone asks for is legitimate -- even if it's socks or playing cards.
unmutual From: unmutual Date: December 16th, 2017 03:31 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Aww ...

Well yeah, I agree... but the family was very caught up in the propriety of what things *should be*. An example: I once told my then-husband that I didn't really like cut roses, but carnations! ahh, carnations. The petals, the smell, the everything. Carnations.

"I can't get you carnations!" he said. "You get your *girlfriend* carnations. You get your wife *roses*."

"But I don't like roses," said I.

He brought me a bouquet of carnations. That weekend his brother came over, walked into the house, saw the flowers, and said "what, you bought her carnations like she's still your girlfriend or something?"

*headshake* There are reasons we're no longer together :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 16th, 2017 03:34 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Aww ...

That level of inflexibility is a key reason why I'm leery of "etiquette."

My partner happens to like thistles and hollyhocks. So I got him t-shirts with those things. Evidently I am the first person to humor his taste in flowers.
unmutual From: unmutual Date: December 16th, 2017 03:37 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Aww ...

I feel like it's always good to *know* the rules, because then you can decide which ones you're going to break - and it's generally better to choose to break rules on purpose, rather than stumbling and breaking them accidentally.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 16th, 2017 03:43 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Aww ...

To a certain extent, that has its uses. But ...

* Many of the important rules are not written down and anyone who can't learn them by osmosis is treated as less than human.

* Every culture has a different set of rules.

* So does every family or other small cluster of humans.

Which means you can't ever really know the rules, just some examples, and people may randomly think those are wrong.
unmutual From: unmutual Date: December 16th, 2017 03:49 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Aww ...

Oh, don't I know it. All the same, I like to know as many rules as I can, for as many situations as I can.

For examples: I don't often set a formal table, but I'm glad I know how to. I mailed out my "happy winter" cards with the cards inserted into the envelope the right way up, even though a number of recipients aren't going to know that - the ones who *do* know will appreciate it.

I like the challenge of being aware that there *are* rules to learn in different families or cultures, and trying to absorb them as well as I can (which sometimes isn't very well at all, but then, my ex-inlaws were particularly difficult about that).
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 16th, 2017 03:55 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Aww ...

I've had a lot of fun studying etiquette in the abstract, out of sociological curiosity. Plenty useful for writing. However, I haven't found it all that helpful in dealing with actual humans.
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