The Mobil Oil Company introduced the first retail gift card that recorded value on a magnetic strip in 1995. In under a decade, such gift cards replaced apparel as the number one item sold during the Christmas season. This study will discuss the reasons for the strong surge in the gift card market. It will then consider the value of gift cards as an intermediate option between two alternatives: purchasing a physical gift, which could possibly be returned or exchanged, versus giving cash. Empirical data on the resale price of gift cards from an Internet auction website provide information on the value that recipients place on gift cards suggesting that the difference between the cost of a gift card to the giver and its value to the recipient is substantial, although perhaps not quite as large as the parallel gap involved in physical gifts.
"Markets: Gift Cards." Journal of Economic Perspectives,