Photo by Zen Imagery
What began as a gleam in the eye of Mobile Oil Company -- the founding father of the modern gift card -- has grown into a $100 billion annual industry.
Gift cards -- whether plastic, virtual or mobile -- have been the number one item on Americans' holiday wish lists since 2007, and 2010 is expected to be better than ever.
According to Internet Retailer, online gift card sales alone are expected to grow at 29% for the next four years and a stunning 41% of consumers say they've used gift cards online in the last year.
Holidays aren't the only reason for using plastic, however. Even after the end of the 2009 holiday season, the plastic industry continued to rise. FirstData.com noted gift cards sold in the first half of 2010 were up 2.7%, with the resultant usage increasing sales 2.2% after Christmas.
In the first half of 2010 alone, the average gift card amount increased 1.9 percent, according to GiftCardAdvocate.org. Gift card reloads -- the practice of adding value to an existent card -- increased by 25% in the first half of 2010. Restaurants came in for their share of attention, with the average amount of card purchase rising by 4.7% in that same period.
Technology has made gift card buying and use much easier, with 42% of merchants currently offering an e-card option, according to Bankrate.com. For those who prefer the old-fashioned plastic, however, 74% of the same merchants surveyed offered replacement programs for lost cards.
This explosion has led to entire websites dedicated to the buying, selling and trading of discount gift cards in every possible category. Consumers can even easily check gift card balances online.