Monday, November 19, 2007

Gift Cards are Not Gifts

I found this article on the Sympatico website. I tend to agree with it. There are many good points in it.

"Gift cards are not gifts
Holidays have rapidly devolved into what amounts to an exchange of cash. A gift card says nothing about the personality of the recipient -- but it says lots about the giver.
By Liz Pulliam Weston
November 14, 2007
Gift cards are incredibly popular. They're also an oxymoron.
A gift, ideally, says, "I thought about you. I considered your likes and dislikes, your needs and wants, your dreams and desires, and found you this token of my esteem that I hope will delight you."
A gift card says, "There! Checked you off my list."
It's not just me that says so. Judith Martin, the doyenne of etiquette known to millions as Miss Manners, dismisses gift certificates -- and, by extension, gift cards -- as "a pathetic compromise convenient to people who do not trust their judgment about selecting the right present for those whose tastes they ought to know."
Think about it. Would a lover, in the flush of romance, lean close to the object of his affection and present... a gift card? Would proud grandparents present the latest addition to the family with... a gift card? Would your best and closest friend, the one you've known for years, who's stuck with you through the roller-coaster ride of life, walk into your hospital room and give you... a gift card?
(If the answer to any of those questions is yes, by the way, you need to start hanging with a better class of people.)
Yet gift cards continue their relentless spread:
Last year, 74.3% of respondents surveyed told a U.S. National Retail Federation survey they planned to buy at least one gift card, up from 69.9% the year before.
Half of respondents (50.1%) said they would like to receive a gift card, up from 41.3% two years earlier.
The younger you are, the more likely you are to be delighted by a gift card: 82% of Americans under 44 said they appreciated receiving gift cards, according to an American survey by Coinstar, purveyor of coin-counting machines and gift cards.
The death of shame Many young people are so enamoured with gift cards, with being "empowered to make their own choices," as one retailer laughably put it, that they don't even realize what they're missing.
Older people might, but hey, they're busy, cards are convenient, so what's the harm?
The harm is that the art of gift-giving is quickly devolving into an entirely commercial exchange. How much longer until we simply start thrusting wads of dollar bills at each other?
Some people, apparently, would be delighted with that prospect. While researching party themes for my daughter's upcoming celebration, I stumbled across a posting by a woman who proudly included the horrifying words "monetary gifts would be much appreciated" on her 3 year-old child's invitations. She went on to explain that "I wanted money as gifts for my daughter's savings and for us to buy bigger toys, like a big kitchen and a Barbie Jeep that she wanted, instead of guests giving her small toys."
It's official. Shame is dead.
Heaven forbid that givers use their own judgment and spend a little time picking out small items that might give the recipients pleasure. Just give us the cash and get out of the way.
A real gift brings you closer It's not that I've never given a gift card. I have, three times that I can remember. But I viewed these cards what they were: a cop-out, an admission that I had grown so out of touch with the recipients that I didn't know what would please them. In two cases, I used the experience as a prod to spend more time with the giftees and get to know them better. In the third instance, I finally decided that what had been a close friendship no longer was and ended the gift exchange -- to mutual relief.
It's also not that I don't understand the practical aspects of the gift card. I do. I just can't help mourning the passing of a lovely tradition, one that helped us focus on each other and had the potential to bring us closer.
How would I have felt, for example, about the new friend I rushed to the hospital one night had she thanked me with a gift card rather than a basket of chocolate-dipped strawberries, each more luscious than the last? Of course, no gift was expected or required, but her thoughtfulness created a bond.
Or would I have felt nearly as welcomed by my new mother-in-law if, on my first Christmas as a wife, she'd presented me with a gift card rather than the antique soup tureen that had been in her family for years? Her present told me I was part of the family.
And should I give up trying to please my husband who is -- Kenneth Cole as my witness -- one of the hardest human beings in the world to shop for? I think not. With each gift, and each return, I learn a little bit more about his tastes and style. It's a challenge to delight and surprise him, but occasionally I do -- and it's worth the effort.
The search for a gift is a gift itselfSure, the old way included plenty of opportunities for misfires -- for the tie shaped like a fish, the sweater that's six sizes too big, the dolls from the aunt who could never figure out that her teen-age niece no longer played with Barbies. But those experiences taught us the fine art of tact and diplomacy, of expressing gratitude to people who tried to make us happy, however bizarre the actual result.
It also drove home the point, as few things do nowadays, that special occasions are about people -- not about getting more stuff or increasing our net worth.
If you find yourself purchasing gift cards, maybe the solution is to buy less and think more. Do these folks really need to be on your gift list, or would you all be better off getting together for coffee or drinks and skipping the exchange? If you really need and want to purchase a gift, maybe you can start brainstorming ideas year-round, rather than panicking at the last minute and settling for a piece of plastic.
If you really must buy gift cards, then at least:
Make certain events off limits. Even etiquette expert Peter Post, who believes gift cards have become acceptable in many situations, makes a distinction between cards and "real gifts." There are certain situations, like weddings, where "you should give a real gift rather than a gift card," says Post, great-grandson of manners-icon Emily Post. Valentine's Day and anniversaries are other situations that call for the real deal.
Combine a card with a real gift. If you want, it can even be from the same retailer that's providing the gift card to facilitate returns. Even a small gesture is better than none at all.
Think twice before giving one to someone you love. If you ever shared a home with the recipient, you can -- and should -- do better by them.
Don't add to the recipient's burdens. If your recipient would have any trouble redeeming the card, don't give it. "It probably wouldn't be appropriate to give one to your grandmother in her 80s," particularly if she suffers from limited mobility, said Post, author of "Essential Manners for Couples." "It's not for (a recipient) who finds shopping more of a burden than a pleasure.""

Hear, hear! Think twice before giving a gift card to someone special; unless it's a Starbucks gift card. They're awesome.

Until next time.....

No comments: