In some ways, gift cards are the equivalent of looking under the Christmas tree to find that your significant other got you socks. Sure, you need socks, some of us maybe even want them, but for the majority of gift-receivers, a gift-giver taking the lazy option often makes the actual gift less special.
That's what happens when someone decides to give a gift card. It counts as a gift, but in most cases a Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX) card (which one in six Americans received in 2015) or any other gift card mostly says either "I don't know you that well" or "I don't care about you that much."
In fact, while more than 50% of gift-givers plan to give gift cards this holiday season, only 27% of people prefer to get them, according to a new report from Bankrate (NYSE: RATE).
"Generally, I think if a family member or a friend gave me a gift card I'd find it tremendously disappointing," Jenny Chang, 32, an account director at a New York City public relations and marketing firm, told the financial services company.
Some groups want gift cards more
Bankrate found that younger millennials, which it defined as 18- to 25-year-olds have a very split opinion of gift cards. On one hand, 34% say they would pick a gift card as a gift to get (the most of any age group), but 57% would prefer a tangible gift. Only 9% in this age group did not have a definitive preference between the two, the lowest of any age group.
As for older baby boomers (ages 62 to 70), the researchers found that 44% preferred an actual non-gift-card present. But, while they may not want to get them, 49% of that age group plans to give them.
"Finding a gift that suits each individual on your holiday list can be a challenging task," said Bankrate.com analyst Mike Cetera in a press release. "Given the vast selection, electronic delivery options and potential security features, gift cards are still a solid choice for many gift-givers."
It's a question of effort
People buying gift cards actually do have good intentions. The majority (57%) of Americans who buy gift cards as gifts do so because they actually think it's the best gift for that person, according to the research.
The problem is that while the person receiving, say, a Starbucks gift card may use it, and it may have been bought because the giver knows the person visits the chain, it's still a relatively thoughtless gift. That's because knowing that someone drinks coffee, eats tacos, or wears clothes from a certain chain is very surface knowledge.
On a non-scientific basis, getting a gift card for a chain you shop at feels great when it's from an acquaintance. When the gift comes from a close relative or a spouse, a gift card seems like a lazy approach unless it's a gift amount toward a bigger purchase, or one that someone has specifically requested.