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Which gift cards should you buy?

Gift cards are an easy way to survive the holiday season. But which ones are better than others? And which ones do Canadians want most? We've got your answers.
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Carmi Levy, December 17, 2013 2:23:24 PM

I’m not ashamed to admit that the holiday shopping season freaks me out a little. Remembering who wants what, based on countless hints they may or may not have dropped throughout the year, is about as difficult to pull off as a moon landing. While drinking a milkshake. On Mars.

So basically I’m lousy at getting the right gift for everyone on my list. Which means I sometimes, ahem, cop out and buy a gift card. Please don’t judge me.

I’m not alone. Shopping-weary Canadians continue to turn to gift cards – in its 2013 Holiday Survey, Deloitte said gift cards and certificates remain the top gift ideas, with 43% of respondents saying they’re planning on buying gift cards this holiday season – just ahead of clothing, at 42%, and books at 30%. An InComm Canada survey suggests 51% of all gift cards will be purchased for adults, with 27% going to teens, and 23% to friends.

The InComm survey also says the most commonly purchased types of gift cards for adults include department stores (32%), restaurants (29%), and fast food (22%). With that in mind, here’s a quick rundown of some of the top gift card choices this holiday season:

  • Apple Store. You don’t have to own an iPhone or an iPad to appreciate why Apple Stores are turning brick-and-mortar retail on its ear. With a wide-open design that invites you to come on in and play with the tech toys, a Genius Bar that gets you back to work and an overload of blue-shirt-clad staff who actually seek you out and answer questions without being pushy, it’s the right place even for technophobes who don’t know what they’re looking for. If your recipient can’t get to an Apple Store, go for an iTunes gift card, instead. Not into fruity technology? Google Play just launched its own gift card, as well. If you’re a member of Android Nation, keep in mind that a Google Play gift card can buy any content in their online store, but not physical devices or hardware.
  • Best Buy. Big box stores aren’t going anywhere this holiday season, and a gift card lets your giftee roam the aisles and pick up whatever he/she desires: within reason, of course. Increasingly flexible in-store and online purchase and shipping options – including an eGift card that you can send electronically – make it easy for your recipient to get just the geek-toy he/she wants, all in time for Santa’s trip down the chimney.
  • Hudson’s Bay Company. Baby it’s cold outside, and a tablet isn’t going to keep your toes cozy. An HBC gift card from Canada’s oldest department store, however, is just the ticket during this season of holiday cheer and long, freezing nights. The card can be used at HBC-owned Home Outfitters, as well. With upscale Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor getting ready to cross the border, future giftees will have even more choice.
  • Indigo. The Chapters branding may be disappearing fast, but the largest Canadian bookseller is still a major draw for bookworms and geeks alike. In addition to picking up a card in-store, you can order one online and have it shipped – or if you’re feeling especially techie, spring for an electronic gift card.
  • Home Depot. Yes, the flannel-shirt/overall-wearing renovator types appreciate some gift card love just like the rest of us. Cards work just as well in-store and online, and you can even avoid the chintzy canned graphics by customizing them with your own picture.
  • PC Gift Card. Can you really give a gift card for a grocery store? Why not? We all have to eat, and even the most basic grocery stores these days are evolving into lifestyle stores with home furnishings, clothing and electronics sections. If your recipient doesn’t live near a Loblaws grocery, chances are a Real Canadian Superstore, Dominion, No Frills, Provigo, Zehrs, Atlantic Superstore, Fortinos or Extra Foods isn’t too far away.
  • Air Canada. This is another gift card category that may seem eye-opening at first, but trust us on this one: it’s a keeper. Available in amounts from $25 through $10,000, you don’t have to spend megabucks to keep your globetrotting recipient happy. With fees for checking baggage, meal vouchers, flight cancellations and changes, and accessing the lounge continuing to multiply like your average family of rabbits, a relatively small gift card can go a long way toward easing the pain at the airport.
  • Tim Hortons. Gift cards for this Canadian institution, with a location seemingly on every other block, are a no-brainer for many of us. If your recipient would rather exchange his/her Tim Card for the somewhat fancier fare at Starbucks, gift cards for the Seattle-based chain are easily purchased, as well. Either way, be prepared to find yourself invited out for a mug of something hot. Isn’t that what the holiday season is all about?

My mother always taught me it was the thought that counted. I still think she was right, but a gift card tossed into the mix is always a good idea, too. Be sure to pick up a little something for yourself while you’re at it.

Image: 401(K) 2012/

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