Gift Card Craze Continues

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Can’t think of what to get Uncle Fred this holiday season? No problem, a gift card is the answer. More than ever before, consumers are turning to gift cards to solve this season's difficult gifts, with $35 billion worth of gift cards expected to be purchased this year, a 25 percent jump from a year ago, according to a survey by Stamford, Conn.-based retail consulting firm Archstone Consulting, cited by the Des Moines Register.

Within the industry, one convenience retailer is seeing a large increase in its gift cards' popularity. Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey's General Stores has seen about a 50-percent increase so far this year in the value of gift cards it sells, Bill Walljasper, Casey's chief financial officer, told the Register.

"They make great stocking stuffers or gifts to employees," he told the newspaper.

In addition, Inver Grove Heights, Minn.-based Cenex sees its gift cards as a valued gift.

"Really, no matter who we are, our transportation expenses are going up," Paul Culver, who manages Cenex's credit and gift cards, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "The spirit is not, 'You're down on your luck,' but, 'Here's something that can save you money every day.' I think it's greatly appreciated."

Culver expects a 110-percent increase in Cenex gas cards this holiday season compared to 2006, the report stated.

Smaller chains are also getting into the gift card craze. "We find a lot of parents looking to buy them for their university students," Steve Williams, a partner at four of Bobby & Steve's Auto World, told the Tribune. The eight-store chain also sees employers buying employees holiday bonuses. One of the chain's locations expects to sell about $7,000 in gas cards from October through December, up nearly 75 percent from the same period a year ago, the report stated.

More than 56 percent of gift cards are redeemed within a month of being purchased, according to the Archstone survey, with almost 85 percent of cards redeemed within three months of purchase.

In addition, a National Retail Federation report conducted by BIGresearch revealed that nearly 88 percent of shoppers said they would buy two or more gift cards this year, the Des Moines Register reported.

However, some gas stations are stating they have seen no increase in gift card sales, and are hoping it is just too early in the holiday season.

Chrissy Romero, assistant manager for a BP station in Harrisonburg, Va., told the Rockytown Weekly she sold more gift cards when she began working at the station this spring than she has so far this Christmas season.

"I haven't sold any yet," said Romero. "I've sold some [since I started working here], but none for Christmas."

Meanwhile, a local Exxon station told the paper they have sold fewer cards this year than last. So far, the station sold only one of the cards, according to Loretta Ford, the station's manager. At this time last year, the store had sold 50 cards, she told the paper.

"It's a big difference," said Ford, who noted she believes people are spending less on Christmas in general. "People are not giving like they used to. Money's tight."

In addition, other gas station managers said it is too early to tell.

"This year, the [inquiries about] gift certificates are up, and I do think it's because of the gas prices," Jason Boyers, assistant manager at Quarles, told the Rockytown Weekly. "As a whole, I'm pretty sure we're going to sell more this year, but it's too early to tell."
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