Retail gift card pitfalls to avoid this holiday season


In this age of the internet and lack of time, gift cards are becoming a preferred gift option for many. With the holiday shopping season in full swing, billions in gift cards will most likely be purchased from now until the end of the year, from virtual stores like (NASDAQ: AMZN) to bricks-and-mortar stores like Best Buy (NYSE: BBY).

Are gift cards really the best option for that special person who is hard to shop for? Most likely, yes -- but don't let that thinking make you believe gift cards are foolproof gift items, either. If you're into gift cards offered by banks (these act like normal credit cards in a sense), the allotment of fees, surcharges and other nastiness may take away some enjoyment from those special recipients this holiday season. Want more? Be sure and check those expiration dates as well -- and include that information as part of the gift. Sound harsh? Would you rather have that or having that special someone sit on a gift card that then becomes unusable in the near future? You pick.

Why on earth fees on gift cards are tolerated by consumers I'll never know. Perhaps it's the retailer's way of punishing consumers for not actually buying a product as a gift. Maybe it's yet another way to goose margin amid the zillions of other ways to gouge unsuspecting customers on top of that worthless extended warranty. Oops, I meant "premier product performance plan." Ehh. Here's something to stew about: Best Buy reported a $43 million gain from gift cards purchased in 2006 that were "unlikely to be used." Did that include any gift cards you purchased as gifts?