1. 'Open-loop' cards
"The early thought here is that the lean will be toward open-loop cards," says Brent Watters, senior analyst with Mercator Advisory Group's prepaid practice. Consumers can use "open loop" gift cards, which carry the American Express, Discover, MasterCard or Visa logo, at any establishment that accepts that brand.
Watters contends that in today's economy, people will likely redeem gift cards on what they need rather than want, which makes open-loop cards an ideal choice. "An open solution provides them more flexibility to take care of those needs. I believe you'll see more controlled spending in regards to how those funds will be used."
A 2008 gift card survey from Archstone Consulting confirmed the popularity of prepaid debit cards. It found that more than 50 percent of consumers prefer open-loop gift cards over other types.
2. Discount store/big box/mass merchandiser cards
According to NRN/The Hartman Group survey, around 42 percent of respondents reported buying a discount-store card within the past year. The trend is expected to continue this year.
"This year discount-store gift cards have been most popular," says Coady, lead author on the study. These stores offer a variety of merchandise, and "nearly all of the consumers who like giving gift cards give them so the recipient can pick out what they want to buy," she says.
The Archstone Consulting survey noted that luxury gift cards, such as upscale department stores Saks and Neiman Marcus, get redeemed faster than big-box store cards. With a growing number of consumers using gift cards for necessities, however, the tide could change this holiday season. "This year I think you'll likely see an increase in speed that the big-box ones are (redeemed)," says Mike Unger, principal at Archstone Consulting.