Thursday, October 23, 2014 · 6:08 a.m.
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Total spending on gift cards is projected to reach $28.79 billion this year. (Photo: Staff)

This holiday season, more than 80 percent of shoppers will buy at least one gift card and spend an average of $156.86 on them, according to a National Retail Federation survey. 

Total spending on gift cards is projected to reach $28.79 billion this year, according to the survey. 

“Retailers are pulling out all the stops this year to make their gift cards personal, convenient and desirable,” National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a prepared statement. “Savvy shoppers know they can purchase a much-appreciated gift card with ease, either in store, online or through their mobile device, and give their loved ones the option to buy something they really want or need.”  

But some local residents said gift cards are generally impersonal presents.

Chattanooga resident Erin Rankin said that, unless gift cards are a personal tradition or the gifter knows a recipient loves a specific store, gift cards are not an ideal gift for close friends or family. 

"If it's just a generic card to Walmart given to a new friend or significant other—totally impersonal," she said via Twitter. 

But, according to the survey, six in 10 people—59.8 percent of those polled—said they'd like to receive a gift card this year. That's up from 57.7 percent last year. 

Gift card tips 

Leaders with the state's Department of Consumer Affairs offered tips for getting the most out of a gift card:

—Check expiration dates and fees. In Tennessee, those details and other agreement terms must be clearly disclosed at time of purchase.

—Ask about restrictions, such as inactivity fees. 

—Ask what to do if the card is stolen. 

—Always get a receipt. 

—Ask about exemptions, such as if the card can be used both in the store and online. 

And Rankin said that if a gift card comes from an acquaintance whom she wasn't expecting a present from, it's a touching gesture. 

On average, consumers will spend $43.75 on each card they buy.

And, just like last year, men will likely spend more on gift cards that women.

Men will spend an average of $172.98, compared to women's $141.66, according to the survey.

About 20 percent of survey respondents said they will buy a gift card because it's easier and faster than other gifts.

And 44.7 percent of shoppers said they buy the cards because they are practical, allowing the recipient to pick out their own present and choose something they are sure to like.

“Gift cards are the perfect practical and personal gift, allowing the recipient to treat themselves to something nice or even something they need,” BIGinsight Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow said in a prepared statement. “Whether it’s a mobile card that consumers can use whenever it’s most convenient or one that includes video or audio, gift cards can still be extremely personal.”

According to Bankrate.com's 2012 Gift Card Survey, store-branded gift cards come with fewer additional fees compared to all-purpose cards from banks or credit card companies. 

Bankrate.com leaders looked at 55 store-branded gift cards and found that only 9 percent charge a purchase fee and that 2 percent charge a dormancy or maintenance fee. 

They also surveyed eight prominent gift cards from credit card companies and banks, and all of them charge a purchase fee that ranges from $2.95 to $6.95. Seventy-five percent of those charge a dormancy or maintenance fee if the card is unused for 12 months or more.

“The key takeaway for consumers is that they’re going to get the most value from store-branded gift cards,” Janna Herron, credit card analyst for Bankrate.com, said in a prepared statement. “The benefit of general-purpose cards offered by banks and credit card companies is that they can be used anywhere, but because of the fees, you would be better off giving cash.”

Banks and credit cards use the fees to create revenue, but retailers are less dependent on those fees because the cards will be used at their stores, according to Bankrate.com. 

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