We all love gifts, but do we all love gift certificates? Some consider them to be impersonal. I count myself among them. Others, though, think gift cards are the height of practicality and usefulness.
Just in time for this year's frenzied shopping season, a new development south of the border has made gift cards even more convenient, less tactile and, depending on how you look at it, even more impersonal.
In the U.S., several chain stores and restaurants are offering "mobile gift cards," bypassing the plastic variety altogether. Recipients of such cards receive a text message, which they can then use to complete the transaction at the till. Those redeeming their mobile gift cards at American Eagle Outfitters, which announced their introduction last month, will even have the transaction appear in their Facebook feed (the cards are only available in the U.S. at this time).
Among younger shoppers, cellphones may be supplanting that old-school accessory - the wallet - entirely. Smartphones, for instance, not only keep us in touch with each other, but provide news, information and diversions of all kinds. I even put my grocery list into my phone (it has a better memory than I do).
So it makes sense for retailers to integrate new shopping innovations into the range of activities tethered to our phones, but gift-giving is trickier. How would you feel having a gift texted to you during a random moment, perhaps while sitting on the bus, instead of sharing that moment with the gift-giver? With mobile gift cards, the recipient will likely have more face time with the cashier at the register than with the person who gave the gift. And with recipients of a certain generation, that may be okay.
Paige Dzenis, associate creative director at Toronto branding agency Espresso, specializes in mobile marketing trends and youth culture. She suggests that gift cards represent the height of convenience for young people. A gift card allows "you to choose exactly what you want and make [the shopping experience]exactly your own," Dzenis explains, adding that mobile gift cards are a logical step for youth-driven retailers.
"Kids and teens are already spending so much time using their phones for transactions, even if they are just social transactions," she says.
Whether mobile gift cards will be embraced by Canadian retailers remains to be seen, but, as we all know, youth tends to steer the ship when it comes to both fashion retail and personal technology. Of course, the traditionalists among us can still cling to old-fashioned wrapped presents and let the kids, in the true spirit of giving, receive theirs any way they want. Get those texting thumbs ready.