CHICAGO (CBS) – Virtual gift cards are the hottest gifts to give this season. But, as CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker reports, there’s an upside and downside to the newest online sensation.
With two younger children at home and two older ones in school, Maria Ramos is too busy to hit the stores this Christmas, so she’s sending virtual gift cards.
“I love virtual gift cards. I think it is a life-saver to a lot of people, especially those that have people who are hard to buy for on their list,” said Ramos.
They’re easy to send. All you do is log on to the growing number of stores that offer online gift cards. You pick the amount you want to send, enter your credit card information, the recipient’s name and e-mail address and your shopping is done.
What’s the advantage of a virtual gift card?
“The number one advantage is convenience,” said Ramos. “You can do it in the convenience of your home, in your pajamas, not having to go out into the cold to purchase them.”
The lucky recipient of your gift card can cash it in by shopping online, or they can print the certificate and take it to the store.
Some retailers even have apps where you can save the gift card to your mobile phone and have the cashier scan it at checkout.
Karen Renk, who is the Executive Director of the Incentive Marketing Association, says, “As mobile technology is advancing so very quickly, more and more retailers are adopting the use of virtual cards.”
Another advantage is that sometimes you can actually save money when you buy virtual gift cards, by using discount codes.
One example can be found at Restaurant.com. Maria says she has found $25 gift certificates for as low as $2.
But there are some pitfalls to online gift giving. Sometimes your computer will read the card as spam. If that happens, you might accidentally delete it.
Gail Hillebrand with Consumers Union warns that “if the e-mail doesn’t arrive, the gift hasn’t arrived.”
Consumers Union suggests you give your recipient a heads up that you’re sending an online gift card, so they know to watch for it.
Ramos says the gift card giver can also call the retailer for help if the online card fails to arrive.
“Have them resend an e-mail if you feel like maybe it’s just gotten lost in the inbox,” she said.
Other things to keep in mind: you can’t be charged an inactivity fee if you use the cyber card at least once every 12 months. And, it can’t expire for five years. But e-mailed gift certificates can.
It’s always wise to use your gifts as soon as possible, just in case the store goes out of business.