Seth Asks, What’s With Gift Cards?

kinnon —  November 15, 2007 — 4 Comments

I’m not as regular a reader of Seth Godin as I once was. Not quite sure why that is. He’s one of the smartest marketing guys I know and no slouch when it comes to life’s major questions. Like. What’s with Gift Cards?

In case you had any doubt that human beings are irrational creatures, driven by stories, consider the case of the gift card.

Christmas has become a holiday about shopping, not about giving. Case in point: the $100 gift card, now available from banks, from stores, even in a rack at the supermarket.

Last year, more than $8,000,000,000 was wasted on these cards. Not in the value spent, but in fees and breakage. When you give a card, if it doesn’t get used, someone ends up keeping your money, and it’s not the recipient. People spent more than eight billion dollars for nothing… buying a product that isn’t as good as cash.

Along the way, we bought the story that giving someone a hundred dollar bill as a gift (“go buy what you want”) is callous, insensitive, a crass shortcut. Buying them a $100 Best Buy card, on the other hand, is thoughtful. Even if they spend $92 and have to waste the rest.

Seth suggests starting a new meme – Gift Cards are for Chumps. I’d buy into that.




A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

4 responses to Seth Asks, What’s With Gift Cards?

  1. This is not good, I was going to get my wife a Ann Taylor gift card.

  2. This is not good, I was going to get my wife a Ann Taylor gift card.

  3. I think it goes further that what Seth identifies.
    1. It is no longer the thought that counts. It is the game of getting what “I” want.
    2. Because we don’t really know, or care, or have the time to find out, what they want, we give the gift card.
    3. This also goes beyond gift cards to any sort of monetary credit that is reserve for later use. For example, I had to cancel and rebook a flight after I had purchased the ticket. The value of the ticket became “e-credits.” I made sure that I used up my ed-credits before they evaporated. If I had not stayed focused on their existence, I could have easily loss the $300+ that I held in e-credits.
    As far as gift giving, give me a real gift with real thought behind it.

  4. Gift Cards are only a scam if you do not use the value from them. Stores want you to use them because if they do not get used they are placed as liability. After all since the new rules banning expiry dates the money can still be used on the gift cards at anytime. Sometimes its hard to find something to fit someone else so a gift card is an option. Websites like in Canada and plastic jungle in the States can help you sell gift cards you cannot use too, so some value can be taken from them.


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