Last-minute couch-potato shoppers rejoice! It's become a whole lot easier to send gift cards almost instantly. Six big-name retailers and one major credit card issuer have rolled out e-gift cards, according to Bankrate.com's 2011 Gift Card Survey, a nod to the growing popularity of online shopping.
"Retailers are adding them in droves," says Rebekka Rea, executive director at the Retail Gift Card Association. "It's definitely something that if retailers don't have now, they are behind."
Starbucks, Best Buy, Gap Inc., Pizza Hut, Staples, Overstock.com and American Express all added a virtual version of their gift cards since last year's survey. Consumers simply buy the e-cards online and send the gift card directly to the lucky recipient's inbox. No worrying about shipping a plastic card in time. And no getting out of your pajamas.
"We added the (e-gift card) option because we increasingly see our customers access our brand through mobile and online means," said Pizza Hut spokesman Chris Fuller in an email to Bankrate.
Still, the e-gift card market is small. Ben Jackson, a senior analyst at Mercator Advisory Group, says that e-gift cards made up about 4 percent of the $97.2 billion gift cards brought in last year. But he expects the market to continue to grow, even if plastic gift cards stick around.
"There will always be people like me who remember my sister's birthday is tomorrow and I need to get something to her in Florida," says Jackson, who is in Massachusetts. "E-gift cards have a future."
In all, more than half of the cards in Bankrate's survey were available as e-cards too. Only one retailer, Costco, eliminated its e-card this year.
Bankrate's 2011 Gift Card Survey surveyed 63 gift cards in total: eight network-branded gift cards and 55 other gift cards, including those from chain restaurants, online stores, grocers, department stores and big box stores. This year's survey added 10 new gift cards: six from major airlines and four gas gift cards. It dropped the Borders gift card because the retailer filed for bankruptcy in February.
The survey includes two types of gift cards: closed loop and open loop. Closed-loop gift cards can only be used at a single retailer or chain. Open-loop cards feature a credit card brand such as Visa or American Express and can be used anywhere that brand is accepted. For a complete listing of surveyed cards and Bankrate's findings, see our chart.
'Friendly' gift cards and ones on your phone
Another major takeaway from the Bankrate study is the bubbling interest in social media and mobile options for connected consumers on the go. Target and Starbucks introduced mobile phone gift cards that can be used in all their locations. And Amazon.com made it possible to send a gift card to someone's Facebook wall.