SOURCE: Shopzilla

November 14, 2006 06:00 ET

Plastic Is Popular This Holiday Season

Shopzilla Survey: Gift Cards More Popular Than Actual Gifts; Shoppers Need to Be Aware of Gift Card Spoilers

LOS ANGELES, CA -- (MARKET WIRE) -- November 14, 2006 -- Shoppers are suppressing the stress of purchasing the perfect present thanks to the evolution of the gift card. According to a BizRate Research study, conducted for leading comparison shopping search site Shopzilla (www.shopzilla.com), a resounding 92% of online shoppers believe that gift cards eliminate the risk involved with holiday gift-giving. Also, four out of five agree that gift cards are great last minute gifts. E-Marketer estimated that $18.8 billion was spent on gift cards last holiday season, a number that will likely increase this year.

Aside from alleviating the agony of buying gifts, gift cards are popular with gift receivers as well. In fact 40% of survey participants prefer to receive gift cards over actual gifts, compared to 21% who disagree.

Gift cards are soaring in popularity this year. In a separate survey*, just over two-thirds of online shoppers expect to buy gift cards this holiday season (68% plan to buy gift cards, 32% do not plan to buy any gift cards). This is a jump from last year when only half of online shoppers (50%) said they planned to buy gift cards.

Is Plastic Impersonal?

Gift cards may be perceived to lack personality and creativity, but only one-fifth of those surveyed consider gift cards to be impersonal. Even three-fifths of those surveyed who have purchased gift cards say they have given a gift card to a spouse or partner as a holiday gift.

More women than men report having given a gift card to a spouse or partner as a holiday gift (63% of women compared to 55% of men). Men are twice as likely to think that gift cards are impersonal, 30% compared to just 13% of the women surveyed. While almost equal amounts prefer to give gift cards over actual gifts (19% of men and 21% of women), more men disagree with this statement (42%) than feel neutral (39%) whereas more women (47%) feel neutral than disagree (32%).

Make it personal. Companies such as American Express, Wal-Mart or Deluxe Card offer personalized gift cards that you can customize with the recipients name and short message and/or photo.

Be Aware of "Gift Card Spoilers" -- Fees and Fraud

According to Money Magazine (July 2006), this year billions of dollars worth of gift cards -- estimated range from $1.75 billion to $3.5 billion -- won't be cashed in within 12 months of being purchased.

"While plastic's popularity is unquestionable, that doesn't mean buyers and recipients shouldn't ask some smart questions to ensure that the value of a gift card does not evaporate due to nuisance fees," said Helen Malani, chief shopping expert, Shopzilla. "So, be sure to read the fine print before purchasing gift cards."

Along with fees for maintenance and inactive card accounts, calling in to obtain the card's balance, or lack of replacement in case of loss or theft, consumers should be wary of gift card fraud. Recently, several websites have popped up offering gift card exchanges, where shoppers can sell or trade their unused gift cards, unfortunately, not all have fraud-proof systems that prevent sellers from lying about the value of their card. Retail experts give the following tips for avoiding gift card fraud:

1. Before purchasing a gift card, ask about fees that may be imposed for inactivity, account maintenance, telephone balance inquires, time limits to use it, replacement charges, obtaining a partial balance back in cash, etc. Bank cards are more likely than store cards to impose such fees.

2. Buy from reputable sources online or directly from the store. If leaning toward a bank issued gift card, read the fine print very carefully and decide if your gift recipient could be subject to such fees that would devalue your present.

3. If buying from a brick and mortar store, immediately after buying a gift card, ask the cashier to scan the card itself to ensure the card is valid and has the proper value.

4. When buying a gift card, keep the original purchase receipt with the card as proof of purchase. Since the recipient will know the value of the card, it's ok, and a good idea to give the purchase receipt with the card so if any problems arise, value can be established, and the card replaced if lost or stolen (depending on merchant or bank policies).

5. Reputable companies do not ask for sensitive information such as Social Security number, bank account information or date of birth when purchasing gift cards.

6. Avoid purchasing cards that make the buyer or user call in to get even basic information. It's safer to purchase from merchants that clearly display policies and fees on a web site or on gift card brochures and packaging.

You can even comparison shop for gift cards. Shopzilla features many online merchants with such offers.

About The Study:

The study, conducted by BizRate.com, a division of Shopzilla Inc., was fielded on October 12-13, 2006 and includes responses from 1,166 online buyers who are members of the BizRate Research Panel.

About Shopzilla, Inc.:

Shopzilla, formerly BizRate.com, is the most powerful and easiest-to-use shopping search site on the Web. With an index of more than 30 million products from more than 67,000 stores, Shopzilla uses ShopRank, a proprietary patent-pending algorithm, to help shoppers instantly find virtually anything on sale from anyone, anywhere on the Web at the best price. Shopzilla also features powerful comparison tools and BizRate consumer reviews of stores and products, the Web's largest and most trusted consumer feedback network. Every week Shopzilla prepares millions of shoppers to make smarter, more confident purchases and sends them directly to the checkout page of thousands of online merchants. Shopzilla also operates the BizRate consumer feedback network which collects approximately 1 million fresh reviews per month. Shopzilla powers shopping search for many of the Web's largest consumer sites including AOL, Lycos, Time Warner's RoadRunner, and many others. Founded in 1996, the Los Angeles-based company also operates sites in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Shopzilla is owned by The E.W. Scripps Company (NYSE: SSP), a diverse media concern with interests in national television networks, newspaper publishing, broadcast television stations, TV retailing and licensing and syndication. For more information, visit www.shopzilla.com, the smarter way to shop.

* BizRate point of sale survey of 4,611 respondents fielded the week of October 30 - November 5, 2006. Last year's comparisons were fielded the same calendar week last year (October 31 - November 6, 2005).

Contact Information