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Exclusive   2006 Gift Card Study
  STATISTIC: Many consumers said gift cards are impersonal.  
  Now you can personalize with recipients’ names and personal photos.  

Personalize your gift cards

Think a gift card is too impersonal? Create your own.

A holiday study conducted by Deloitte & Touche USA in September found that gift cards are a top choice for consumers. Of those who responded, 66 percent say they are planning to buy a gift card this year, though 22 percent of those surveyed said they wouldn't give gift cards because they consider them too impersonal.

For those who want to give a more special gift, there are now several options for creating one's own gift card, complete with message and design.

"Gift cards were increasingly popular, but online retailers struggled with how to deliver it properly once the gift card was purchased," says Jeff Keller, chief customer officer of Arroweye Solutions, a company that provides gift services to retailers. "A gift is complete when a card is included, so we designed technology to do that and launched an online greeting-card site."

That was, which allows a customer to create personalized greeting cards and gift cards by uploading one's own photograph.

"Gift card research at the time showed that the only drawback was people thought they were impersonal," Keller says. "We realized we could do something fundamentally better: Combine the greeting card and gift card with on-demand production. We think we took an impersonal item and made it highly personalized.

"We process the order and produce it within 24 hours of placing the order online and put it in first-class mail, or express, if you choose," he says. "The greeting card comes with a stamp and an elegant-looking envelope."

The greeting card with the gift card inside can be sent directly to the recipient or to the gift-giver. The cost of this personalized gift card is $4.50 per card, plus the value of the gift card.

Personalized gift cards aren't only for the holidays. "Consumers are increasingly accumulating digital photos and looking for new ways to use them," says Keller. "We've done pictures of homes, families, pets."

On the Web site, there are guidelines for photos -- meaning the company can reject something it thinks is in poor taste.

"Most people are on their good behavior," says Keller. "We've been doing this for five years and haven't had any problems. If the photo is on a gift card, you have to remember that it will be handed over to the retailer. A sense of decorum prevails."

Currently, offers gift cards from retailers such as Circuit City,, CompUSA and Linens 'n Things. Keller says the company is adding more retailers regularly.

At, gift-card givers can purchase a gift card, upload a personal photograph, personalize it with the recipient's name and then pick up the card at the local Wal-Mart an hour later, all through its Digital Photo Center. The cost is 88 cents, plus the value of the gift card.

If you'd like your recipient to be able to use the gift more freely, there is an open-loop Visa-branded card available for customization. (An open-loop card can be used anywhere the credit card is accepted; a closed-loop card can be used only at the retailer that issued the card.)

Givers of open-loop cards should be aware that co-branded gift cards carry fees and expiration dates, unlike most closed-loop cards. (See the detailed 2006 Gift Card Study for specific information on the terms for co-branded cards.) allows buyers to create their own Visa-branded cards with a choice of design and a message for each recipient embossed on each card.

The fees are $4 per card, plus value of the card from $25 to $500, and processing fees of $5.95 to load $25 to $250; $7.95 to load $251 to $500. Cards can be used wherever Visa is accepted but cannot be reloaded and cannot be used at ATMs.

Cards are sent to recipients with disclosure information. There is a 12-month expiration date on the cards, and dormancy fees of $2.50 (called "maintenance fees") per month are charged after six months. Once an order is placed online, it takes two to three days to create the card. The card is then sent via first-class U.S. mail either to you or to the recipient.


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