Even with endless gift choices available online … gift cards reign supreme.

Gift cards are bigger than ever in holiday season 2011
Gift cards are forecast to be bigger than ever in holiday season 2011.
The growth of online shopping has been well-documented, and this holiday season is no exception.

And why not? Online shopping so convenient and cost-effective.

Shopping online gives people the flexibility to shop from wherever they are, without having to spend money on transportation. They can shop at all hours of the day or night. Merchandise price comparisons between sites are easy to do. And in many cases, consumers won’t have to pay any sales taxes or shipping charges.

Tack on free gift notes and even free gift-wrapping at many sites, and you have to wonder why anyone would bother to shop for gifts any other way.

In an environment where shopping has become so easy, convenient and cost-effective – and with basically endless merchandise choices – you might figure that holiday shoppers would be finding and buying “just the right gift” for family members or friends.

And so what’s “just the right gift”? Gift cards – to the tune of $28 billion, according to the National Retail Federation’s Holiday Consumer Intentions & Actions Survey, which queried more than 8,500 consumers in early November.

It’s not just that gift cards are the easiest possible gift to buy, with basicaly zero thought going into the purchase. It turns out they’re also the most requested holiday gift on people’s wish lists. (Prior NRF surveys going back five years have found that to be the case, too.)

The 2011 holiday intentions survey found that gift cards are on track to eclipse last year’s performance:

More people plan to purchase gift cards this season (~80% versus ~77% in 2010)

 The average gift card amount will be higher (~$43 vs. ~$41)

The average total spend on all gift cards is predicted to be ~$155 per purchaser. The survey also found that men tend to spend more on gift cards than women.

Speaking for myself, I’m not at all surprised by that last finding. I think I fit the profile pretty well: After “one too many” gift returns made by my wife and daughters, I resorted to gift cards a few years ago and have never looked back.

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