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Gift Cards: Practical or Lazy?

After hearing Team Zoe bicker over the pros and cons of gift cards last week, we figured it was time to settle the score. It is, after all, December 8, which means holiday shopping should be well under way. (Emphasis on the "should." Some of us have been browsing those incredible holiday gift guides and flash sales for ourselves, promising we'll give that cashmere sweatshirt to our older sister, then wearing it to work the next day. Oops.)

Back to the gift cards debate: as holiday presents, are they practical or just plain lazy? Having changed my own stance more times than Anne Hathaway changed her Oscar outfits, I've decided it's a situational thing. Absolute rules don’t really apply, except one: the more thought that goes into the presentation of the gift card, the better it'll be received.

Realistically, everyone loves the freedom to pick out their own present. What they don't love is the weighy truth that gift cards are sometimes nothing more than last minute, anemic efforts. Ouch.

To combat that, those who want little plastic cards to pack serious punch have several tricks to chose from:

1. Choose a little boutique they really love.
As Rachel Zoe pointed out, the most obvious factor is the vendor selection. My own mother would never know what to get me at Opening Ceremony, but when she gave me a gift card to our office favorite, I was touched—yes, really—that she remembered the store's name from all my ramblings. Not to mention super excited to pick out a crazy-print SUNO skirt, which she would never, ever buy for me.

2. Pay attention to the location.
Like that spa a block from her office, where she could get a manicure on the way home from work. The explanatory note almost writes itself.

3. Give them credit towards a category of things they really need, or want.
It'll push that gift card into more personal territory. A recent grad, for example, might seriously benefit from credit at a home goods store, where she can pick out those grown-up things no one has post-college.

But in every case, the secret isn't the gift card itself—the amount, the store, the card's colors and fonts—but the context. Tie a story to any gift card you give, and the recipient will love it and the present they buy with it.

What do you think? Do you love gift cards or loathe them?

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