Myth: Gift cards aren’t personal

The biggest myth I’ve heard is that gift cards aren’t personal.

Recently, a movie I watched had a dramatic scene involving a gift card. Without giving away the title or spoilers, it was a scene with a family together at Christmas, and it was an obvious sign the main characters’ relationship was over when the husband bought the wife a gift card to a store she didn’t ever plan to shop at.

She was so sad and distraught because of this tiny card in a box symbolizing that this person just didn’t care enough to get her something she would like or use. I have a theory that similar to the time period this movie took place - the 90’s - gift cards are stuck in the past and need a rebrand. 

Why do they have a reputation as thoughtless, last minute gift items that sit around forgotten, collecting dust? The best gifts I’ve ever received came in the form of a gift card - a gift card to a plant shop so I could pick out plants for a new home, another to a local nail salon so I could go with my mom.

More than that, the market for gift cards is already huge and growing exponentially - gift card sales were up 43% during the 2021 holiday season, and the global market is projected to reach $1.4 Trillion by 2026

So let’s talk - why do so many people still see gift cards as an impersonal gift, and what can we do to change the narrative?

Why gift cards are personal, but how we might be failing them

The myth that gift cards aren’t personal is interesting, because there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that isn’t the case. The very nature of gift buying is a personal experience - you’ve got a reason to purchase a gift, and you want to get something the recipient is going to love. There’s this notion that purchasing a gift card over a physical item is somehow thoughtless - you didn’t know what to buy, you didn’t try to find a product, you waited till the last minute and had to get something. 

Yet the opposite is true; in most cases you did try to find a product, but you didn’t want to guess the correct size for the recipient or get them something they may already have. Maybe you know they like that store, but the product you wanted to buy is sold out so a gift card seemed like a good option rather than waiting for it to come back in stock. It isn’t just speculation either, it’s a fact - people like buying and receiving gift cards.

If we take the hard sales figures out of the equation and focus just on how people actually feel about gift cards, we’ll see that they paint the same picture - gift cards are a great gift. 

  • 60% of baby boomers indicated that they’d prefer to receive gift cards as gifts.
  • 72% of millennials said they’ve used digital gift cards recently.
  • 55% of consumers’ yearly gifting budget will be spent on gift cards.
  • 39% of Millennials and 41% of Gen Z said they buy a gift card at least once every 3 months for various reasons.

In part, it comes down to the psychology behind receiving a gift card as opposed to a product or money. Cash gifts, while appreciated, don’t always have a specific purpose in mind, for example saving up for a more expensive item. They go into wallets, and are more likely to be spent when the recipient next has use for it, which may be at the grocery store or on some other expense that isn’t necessarily a “gift” to them. In fact in one survey, cash came out as the gift respondents considered the “most insulting” to receive. 

On the flip side, gift cards are almost always well received. They can only be spent with that store, so the recipient is in a way forced to do something nice for themselves or buy something they may not normally spend their own cash on. In a survey by Blackhawk Network, 83% of respondents said they’d received a gift card for a brand they’d previously tried in the past, and 76% said they see gift cards as an excuse to treat themselves. Chances are if you’re buying a gift card, you’re buying it for a store or a type of product you know the recipient actually likes. 

They’re also a great way to get them something without the pressure of a physical item. Consider items where personal choice and preference is important -  clothing, accessories, beauty products, wellness, tech, the list goes on. Gift cards allow you to give that gift, without potentially choosing a size or a type of item the recipient has no use for and going through either the returns process or the gift gathering dust in a closet. One of our merchants, Felix Gray, is a great example of how this works in practice:

“We see gift cards as the best way to gift something like glasses to someone else in a way they’ll appreciate and enjoy. Glasses are such a personal choice - it’s hard for me to choose what my mom or wife or sister would like. A gift card allows them to make that very personalized choice, because glasses are a very personal item that you wear on your face constantly and you want to choose the pair that works best for you.” - Bobby Shomrony, VP of Sales Operations - Felix Gray.

So - why does this myth persist, if there’s all this positivity around gift cards? 

Well, it’s partly because stores don’t prioritize them. 

Think about it - if you don’t talk about gift cards outside of the holidays, no customer will think about them. If you don’t make it obvious where to buy them, customers won’t go out of their way to find them. More importantly, if your gift cards are basic and lack the ability for customers to personalize them the way they’d want to with any other gift, then they won’t think of them as a personal gift option. It’d be the same with any other product in your store - without promotion, visibility, and the ability to actually add those personal touches, customers probably wouldn’t buy your products as gifts either. 

Let’s look at how merchants can do more to really drive their gift cards. 

What store owners can do to bust the gift card myth

1 - Have a robust gift card option that prioritizes the “personal” aspect of gift buying

As I’ve mentioned, gifts and the act of buying one is personal - so the gift card experience should be personal also. If your gift card lacks that personalized experience, your customers won’t see it as a good gift option. Having to send it to their email first, then print it out or forward it to the recipient's address makes the experience more and more impersonal. The little touches are all so important. Think about when you give a physical gift either in person or sent directly to your recipient; there’s often a gift note, sometimes gift wrap, and the recipient gets the immediate surprise of opening it. Especially if your store already offers gift options for physical items, your gift card needs to match that experience.

That’s why having a robust gift card option that prioritizes the personal experience is so valuable. Govalo allows your customers to add gift notes, send it directly to their recipient, and schedule when the card is sent. If you go a step further with the tools in the app, you can even allow the customer to choose the visuals for the gift card, so whether it’s a birthday or “just because”, they can add even more personal touches to their gift. These features are simply not possible with the native functionality of Shopify’s gift cards, which is likely why so many merchants don’t give them as much attention. 

2 - Promote your gift cards even when it isn’t a gifting holiday

There’s a lot of focus and attention on gift cards as we approach various gifting holidays throughout the year. However, those aren’t the only dates people give gifts; they’re just periods where gifting and gift buying are typically high. Think about other reasons why people give gifts - birthdays, anniversaries, condolences, new baby, new job, and many more. For many of those occasions, gift cards will be a great option and if they’re promoted in the right way, customers will take notice of them. 

Promote your gift cards like any other product on your store:

  • Site placement - Put your gift cards in your primary navigation and other key locations throughout your site so the option always follows the customer around for easy access.
  • Product recommendations - Many customers look for gift ideas, so include gift cards as an option if you have product recommendations specific to gifts.
  • Out-of-stock prompt - Govalo allows you to display the option to purchase a gift card when an item is out of stock. This will give any potential gift buyers an immediate alternative when the item they planned to purchase isn’t available.
  • Email campaigns - Give gift cards their own spotlight in emails, especially to those customers who maybe typically purchase around specific holidays or who have purchased a gift in the past.

The more attention you give your gift cards, the more attention your customers will give them also. 

3 - When it is a holiday, don’t just promote gift cards as a last-minute option

Oftentimes, gift cards are promoted as a last-minute option. This is for good reason, as they’re a popular option for those looking for a last-minute gift and a fantastic option in general. However if you promote them in that way, that’s how your customers will come to view them. The focus should be on their convenience, the features your gift cards offer, and how gift cards help when it’s difficult to choose an item. Promote them throughout the weeks prior to whatever holiday is coming up, similarly to how you would any product. 

There are some key promotional activities that you should consider including your gift cards in:

  • Gift guides - Including gift cards in a guide alongside your products puts it on equal footing as an option for gift buyers.
  • Landing pages - These are highly effective during holidays, giving customers looking for gifts a hub for everything they’ll want to know. Gift cards should be promoted on these pages as a great option. 
  • Email campaigns - Include gift cards and details about them as part of any planned gift idea campaigns. 
  • Social media - Highlight your gift cards to followers, going over the features and benefits to drive awareness.

When you do pass shipping deadlines for holidays, promote gift cards as a simple, fast option to still get a great gift alongside some recommendations for what the gift recipient may be able to purchase with their card. 

I am looking forward to the day when we can intentionally give someone a gift card and they don’t see it as a last minute thoughtless gift, but as something that was done with intention and deep care. The kind of care that goes into giving someone the opportunity to treat themselves — and who doesn’t love to treat ourselves these days?

Want to bust the myth yourself and offer your customers a better gift card experience? Click here to learn more about Govalo, and join brands like Felix Gray, Haus, and Baboon to the Moon in reinventing digital gifting. 

Agency or app developer? Click here to learn about our partnership program.

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