Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Gift Horse's Mouth

This post is one of the reasons I love reading Seth Godin's stuff. As he once said in a lecture I attended, he doesn't so much come up with brand new stuff, but he's pretty amazing at putting the pieces together and coming up with some interesting conclusions.

The piece to which I'm referring is his riff on gift cards and how they are pretty much a scam. As he puts it, why have we bought into the story that it's crude and crass to just give someone a $100 bill as a gift, but somehow it's OK to give them a $100 gift card. The money is useful anywhere, while the card limits the receiver to one store where they will either have to spend some of their own cash or leave money on the card (since it would be pretty tricky to purchase anything which works out to exactly the value on the card).

Let's not even consider the issue of fees on the card which make it worth gradually less and less if you take too long to use it.

Now, I've given such cards myself. Why didn't I just give cash (or check)? I think it basically comes down to the reasons behind the gift. A gift is supposed to be for someone for whom you care, either family or friend. By giving them some specific thing that they want, you are saying you are so close to them that you understand their deepest desire.

Of course, the challenge is that it's difficult to be that close to everyone, especially as families become more dispersed. I love my brother, and I know he loves tools. By this time in his life, though, after decades of building his workshop and it's collection of saws, hammers, drills, etc., I have no clue exactly what he has, needs, or wants. So, my gift card to Home Depot is a statement that I recognize those things which are important or enjoyable to him, I'm just a little fuzzy on the details.

So, I guess at the bottom of things, I can see Seth's point that the gift card industry creates a lot of waste, at the same time, however, we might actually be buying something more than just "store money".

Maybe we're just saying "I wish I knew you better."

So, what are your opinions of gift cards?

1 comment:

Andrew said...

I agree
Gift Cards only are a scam if you do not use them. If you were to right your brohter a check he might be compelled to use it on something like bills or his mortgage. If you give him a gift card for tools he now is forced to buy something he actually desires. Does that make sense?
There are ways to get value from gift cards you do not use too. is an online community in Canada where you can buy and sell discounted gift cards. Plastic Jungle in the states does the same thing. In short a gift card is only thoughtless if you put no thought into it when you buy one.