Editorial Policy

5 Cool Ways to Give E-Gift Cards

Allie Johnson

December 12, 2012

The old way to give a gift card: Pluck a piece of plastic from a rack at the supermarket, wrap it and stick it under the tree. The new way to give a gift card: Surprise the recipient with a gift via text message, Facebook or a festive e-card.

Electronic gift cards have grown in popularity because they’re quick, can be purchased with a click and are delivered instantly — a lifesaver for procrastinators.

However, it used to be that the only way to give an electronic gift card was via a plain email message. That’s no longer the case. Here are five cooler ways to give electronic gift cards:

1) Social giving: Now that Facebook is the go-to way to wish someone a happy birthday, it’s no surprise that gift giving via social media is next.

“It’s really become a big hit,” says Thomas Niedbalski, senior vice president of business and client development for Transaction Wireless, which works with retailers to offer gift cards via social media, mobile devices and plastic.

Posting a gift card and message on a Facebook wall, for example, lets other friends share in the experience.

“People start commenting, ‘Hey happy birthday,’ ” he says, and there’s a link where others can buy or contribute to a gift, too.

“It really helps that gift go viral,” says Niedbalski.

Another service, Wrapp, which started in Europe and became available in the United States in 2012, lets users chip in on a gift as a group and deliver it via social media. Even re-gifting has become cooler. Forget digging a dusty crystal vase out of your attic, wrapping it and hoping Great Aunt Marge never asks where it went. Gyft, which allows users to store, send and redeem gift cards by smartphone, now allows you to discretely re-gift unwanted gift cards via Facebook.

2) Gift via text: Does sending a gift card by text seem a bit impersonal? If done right, it can actually be a very warm way to surprise someone.

More from our 2012 gift card package

Imagine that you go to the mall with your best friend on her birthday, says Ray Clopton, president of LocalGiftCards.com, a service that offers gift cards from local businesses, delivered by text message, email or postal mail. As the two of you walk into her favorite boutique and she admires a pricy cashmere scarf, she gets a text: It’s a gift card from you for that store.

“It’s great for special events — anything where you want the person to receive the gift right then,” Clopton says.

Adding a personal message can make a gift-by-text more special, Niedbalski says. If you can’t make it to a surprise party for a faraway friend, for example, you might schedule delivery of the text right after the party starts.

“Just as your friend looks around the room wondering where you are, her phone vibrates,” Niedbalski says. “She gets a message that includes a gift card and a photo of the two of you together, and she hears your voice singing happy birthday, reminiscing about a memory or wishing her a happy birthday.”

You also can use a service such as Gyft to send a gift card via text. Plus, retailers such as Target and Starbucks allow you to send a gift card right to a mobile phone.

3) Virtual wrapping paper: For as long as gift cards have existed, givers have been looking for fun ways to wrap them, and the same thing is happening with electronic gift cards. In fact, giving an electronic card can mean even more options because vendors can afford to offer a variety of digital designs, Niedbalski says.

“It hardly costs anything to create artwork,” he says, noting that vendors offer designs for birthdays, holidays and special events. “Consumers definitely like a choice — they don’t want just a generic card with the brand’s logo on it.”

Another touch, Niedbalski says, is that buyers can often personalize the denomination of an e-gift card — for example, you can give your niece a $16 card for her Sweet 16 or your dad a $54 card for his fifty-fourth birthday.

Meanwhile, e-card giant BlueMountain.com offers digital gift card holders for Amazon electronic gift cards. Like the little cardboard holders for plastic gift cards, the digital version allows the recipient to “unwrap” the card online. In an example on the company’s website, the recipient clicks on a virtual curtain that opens to reveal an animated forest with trees and fairy dust, then travels a path to find an envelope. The envelope opens with a click, and the virtual gift card emerges with a message. If you’re still a fan of plastic, Transaction Wireless offers “digital wrappers,” so you can buy a plastic gift card, then send a notification by text or email.

“You can let the person know the gift card is on its way,” Niedbalski says.

4) Go local: Gift cards and chain businesses seem to go together, so you probably think your choice is limited to Applebee’s vs. Chili’s rather than Bob’s Corner Diner vs. Starlight’s Yoga & Reiki.

“We’re trying to help customers realize you don’t necessarily have to go to the website of a major retailer or national chain,” says Clopton, of LocalGiftCards.com, which sells gift cards online for a handful of local businesses in each state and also helps local businesses sell gift cards on their Facebook pages.

“Buying a gift card to a local retailer that you know a person likes seems to add a more personal touch than going with a big-box retailer,” Clopton says.

5) Print your own gift card: What if you need a physical present, but you don’t even have a spare hour to dash to the store? Print on demand could be the solution, Niedbalski says. At HPGivingCards.com, Hewlett-Packard offers “a greeting card and a gift card in one.” You choose from several hundred occasion-specific card designs on the site, choose a retailer and an amount, pay and hit print. That can work well when an occasion sneaks up on you — for example, your kid comes home and tells you he has a birthday party to go to in an hour.

“Mom can print the card at home and hand it to Junior, so he can go to the party and not be giftless,” says Niedbalski, whose company works with Hewlett-Packard to provide the service.

Experts say electronic gift cards likely will continue to become even more popular, and, as that happens, choices for delivery and personalization will expand even more.

“Buying an electronic gift card online is so easy,” Clopton says. “We’re seeing a transition to a whole new level of convenience.”