Gift Cards: Big Business, Big Profits

mason
mason
CBS

Gift cards used to be a panicky, last-minute present, but they've become the perfect gift. They're never the wrong size or the wrong color, CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason reports.

"It's so small. I don't have to wrap it," says a woman at an Apple store.

"Gift cards are the phenomena of the time-pressed consumer. And when you're running out of time, it's a very convenient out," says Pat Conroy with Deloitte & Touche.

Gift card sales are expected to jump more than 30 percent this holiday season, to a record $25 billion. Two out of every three shoppers are expected to give somebody a gift card. And this year, for the first time ever, gift cards are expected to outsell toys and games, music and movies, even jewelry.

Chris Bachmann says he picked up a gift card at Starbucks for his future father-in-law.

"If he drinks a good cup of coffee, he'll be on my good side in the morning, you know," he says, laughing.

But be careful. Some cards come with expiration dates or service fees.

"For the individual merchants you buy from, the local restaurant, the chain store, they usually don't expire," says Tod Marks of Consumer Reports. "It's the big-name, credit card-issued cards that have strings attached."

Many of us even forget to use them. Best Buy reported a $43 million revenue gain this year from gift cards that hadn't been redeemed. Still, one survey found that gift cards are the thing women ask for most.

"I do like getting gift cards," Pat Demetrio says. "I'm ashamed to say that." She's "ashamed" because her mother used to have a rule that "the tackiest thing in the world would be to give anything resembling money."

But some gift cards don't even look like gift cards anymore. They can laugh like Elmo, light up like a Nintendo game or like a Star Wars light saber — so you're not giving someone an impersonal piece of plastic.

"You give them the gift of shopping," one shopper explains.

And we know how much Americans love to shop.