Gift cards: a clever move or a too-easy way out?

December 18, 2006|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Columnist

Each year at this time, the great debate rages between those who think a gift card is a terrific thing to give at Christmas and those who think it's a lazy cop-out.

Me, I don't understand why the whole world doesn't give gift cards.

You give me a $50 gift card to Barnes & Noble so I can buy a few Harlan Cobran novels in paperback, I'm ready to kiss you.

Look, I'd come over and paint your house for a gift like that.

But in the interest of fairness - I know, I know ... who's kidding who? - let's see if we can't summarize both positions here.

FOR THE RECORD - The name of mystery writer Harlan Coben was misspelled in Kevin Cowherd's column in the Today section yesterday.
THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR

As I understand it, the anti-gift-card people feel that giving a gift card at Christmas is largely a hollow gesture.

By doing this, they say, you commit the ultimate sin of gift-giving.

That's right: You didn't put any thought into it.

You didn't think of a perfect gift for that person on your own.

Then you didn't go to the mall and park somewhere out in Nevada and fight your way through the howling, package-laden masses to buy that perfect gift.

Finally, you didn't wrap the perfect gift with nice paper and a bow and make it look like a work of art.

No, you took the easy way out.

You marched up to the cash register at Macy's or Best Buy or wherever and mumbled to the sullen young person behind the counter: "Hey, Smiley, need a gift card."

And maybe you did that a few more times at a few different stores.

Then you went home and cracked a beer and plopped yourself in the La-Z-Boy and thought: Well, that takes care of that. At least my Christmas shopping's done.

Oh, this drives the gift-card-haters crazy.

"You didn't work hard enough!" they wail. "You didn't put any effort into your gift list!"

As if giving gifts at Christmas should be like unloading freight cars or something.

Then there are those of us who - yep, here comes the "fair and balanced" part of the column - take a more enlightened view of giving gift cards.

We feel that gift cards, like the Salk vaccine and ATM machines and golf carts with wind screens and GPS capability, make life easier for all.

And anything that makes life easier should be embraced.

But it's not just that we're lazy pigs and want to avoid the usual crowds and hassles at the mall this time of year.

No, we honestly believe most people would rather receive a gift card to a nice store than another dumb gift they don't even want or need.

This way, they can go pick out their own dumb gift.

Why should we be under all that pressure?

Gift cards are also especially perfect for those annoying people who, when you ask what they want for Christmas, always insist: "Oh, I don't need anything."

You know these people? The ones who never give you a clue as to what kind of gift they might like?

For these people, I have two words: gift card.

You don't need anything? Great! 'Cause I couldn't think of anything to get you, anyway. So here's a gift card to Macaroni Grill. Because I'm assuming you do need to eat occasionally, right?

Nevertheless, despite the inherent wisdom of all this, some people just refuse to buy into the concept of giving gift cards.

My wife, for instance, is firmly aligned with the anti-gift-card crowd.

Her feeling is that anyone who receives a gift card in lieu of a real gift at Christmas invariably experiences a big letdown

"You open the box or envelope or whatever it's in and there's this little piece of plastic!" she says. "That's it - a little piece of plastic. A little piece of plastic that says, I don't know, Home Depot. Who's going to get all excited about that?"

Well, OK, not, um, me.

When it comes to being handy, I can barely work a shower curtain. So I'm not a big Home Depot guy. I'm not the sort of guy who's going to jump up and down over the prospect of getting a cordless drill or a miter saw.

But if that little piece of plastic is for a bookstore or a golf store, I'm telling you, you better watch out.

Because this guy is going to be kissing someone.

kevin.Cowherd@baltsun.com

To hear podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltimoresun.com/Cowherd.

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