Sunday, December 4, 2011

It's The Thought That Counts...Or Is It?

Let's talk gift cards today.

They are a unique thing both loved and hated.

I have a long history with them myself.

I confess right up front to being the forgetful person who stops at the store on the way to an event and gets a gift card.  Before gift cards, I was the person that stopped at the ATM and got cash and a bad grocery store greeting card.

I give gift cards a lot.  Not always at the last second.  Quite often I choose them on purpose as a gift and believe that a person will actually enjoy getting and using the gift card.  On occasion I have been wrong.

One word.


It was a colossal fail.


So here's the thing about gift cards.  It's really just giving cash in the form of a piece of plastic.  We used to as a culture/society sort of frown on giving cash for a gift.  I'm not sure exactly why, but I suppose it has something to do with insecurity and whether the receiver will interpret the dollar amount as an indicator of worth in the givers life.


I remember as a little girl getting gifts off and on that weren't exactly fits for me or my life.  None of them were bad gifts or things that terribly disappointed me, they were just things that were sort of ho-hum.  Things that just weren't exactly me.  Like a nice sweater in a color I would never have picked or a dress in a style that really wasn't all that much like my style.  We always kept them and they always came with the words, "it's the thought that counts".

So you grow up with this idea that a gift can be good enough and everything will be OK, simply because "it's the thought that counts".  You come to trust in the idea that even if you don't really know what a person would like or enjoy as a gift, if you just get close enough, it will be OK.  If you just pick a gift that is "nice" it will all work out, because it's not about the gift, but the idea of the love behind the desire to buy a person a gift.


That's how that phrase works out isn't it?  The gift doesn't matter because what really counts is the idea behind the idea of a gift and that's that a person cares about you or loves you.  Now, this slips quickly into where we all live now, the land of gift exchanging out of obligation, expectation, guilt and fear. "I have to get a gift for Bob because he always has one for us.  I just know that now that I am hanging out with Susan, I have to get her a gift, that's what friends do.  Molly would never say anything if I didn't give her a gift, but she would feel bad, and she'll have something for me and I don't want to hurt her feelings or make her feel left out.  How can I not get a gift for Dan?  I have to.  If I don't he'll make a big scene with the family, start all kinds of talk about me and it'll never end and I just have to because who knows what he'll do to me if I don't get him a gift!"

So how do gift cards fall into the thought that counts?

Some say you're thinking of the recipient because you pick a store you know they like and let them go pick out whatever they would like or whatever fits them.  There's no issues of someone else knowing your size.  What if you give those sort of generic gift cards like the VISA kind?  Or cards to places like Target or Amazon, where you can pick out pretty much under the sun?

So then is it still really the thought?  Here's some cash, take yourself to the store or log in and spend it on yourself however you like?

Don't misunderstand.  I love gift cards.  Giving and getting.  I will continue to give them, even this year, but I think we probably should start coming up with some new catch phrase to go with it.  I think it's a pretty hard sell to say "it's the thought that counts" with a gift card or an envelope full of old fashioned paper money.  Honestly, I give those cards and cash all the time, no matter how much I love the person or even if I gave them intentionally instead of at the last minute, I have to say, there isn't much thought there on my part.

What do you think the gift card giving slogan should be?

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