For many of us, the gift card  has long been the perfect fallback when faced with finding last-minute presents or a lack of ideas for that tricky-to-buy-for relative.

But this festive season, consumers are being warned to “think twice” before opting for gift cards, after almost one in 10 received a voucher over the last year for a retailer that has sadly since gone bust.

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Which? surveyed 2,000 consumers and found 7% had received a gift card for a retailer that had gone kaput since March 2020. Some 38% of these consumers were unable to redeem the full balance of their voucher, with an average of £25 left unspent.

And sometimes gift cards don’t get used for other reasons. The Which? study also found the most common reasons respondents gave for not spending a gift card were not getting around to using it (42%) and not finding anything they wanted to spend it on (28%).

So are gift vouchers losing their appeal? Or are they actually still a worthy gift idea? We assess the pros and cons, and consider whether giving or receiving a handful of cash is better instead.

Voucher Pros…

Cynically, as the gift giver, vouchers are indubitably handy. They show you (roughly) know what the recipient likes, and where they shop, but gives them the freedom to choose something they actually want.

They reduce waste and returns. Let’s be honest, at Christmas you’re likely to receive a fair amount of tat that you end up returning, regifting or regretfully shoving in a cupboard. A gift card minimises some of that waste (as long as you spend it on something you need and can fit in your house).

It saves you having to pretend you like the present someone has bought you. You can’t turn your nose up at a gift card; it’s much harder to look appreciative when someone gives you a hideous jumper and expects you to put it on immediately.

You can use them to support independent brands. It’s not just big suppliers and chain stores that offer gift cards and vouchers, standalone shops that deserve support do too, as well as cinemas and restaurants, which have all suffered significantly during the pandemic.

It’s way more exciting than a bank transfer. People used to pop a £10 note in a card and it was so exciting! But now making a bank transfer has become much more common, and there’s just no joy in it. At least vouchers are a physical representation of someone caring about you.

Voucher Cons…

Places go bust. It’s a sad fact, and you can be left with a voucher you can’t use.

People do forget to use them. How many times have you tucked a gift card away and thought, ‘I’ll save that for something special’? Only to forget you have it, and only realise once it’s expired. How much money have we all collectively lost doing that?!

They seem to be easily lost in wallets. Partly to blame for us forgetting to spend them, is the fact some gift cards appear to be designed to be lost in purses and wallets. For some reason, they just vanish.

Arguably, it is a lazy present. Sure, they show a bit of thought, but gift cards are also a blatant signal to say: ‘I love you, but I really didn’t know what to buy you, and didn’t want to risk it.’

You end up spending them in the sales and regretting it. It’s really easy to spend vouchers on stuff you don’t actually want, just because you need to use up the voucher. It’s unnecessary capitalist pressure if you ask us.

It’s just not as exciting as being handed a card full of cash. Fact. Whether you’re a little kid or a full grown adult, opening a card and having a couple of notes float out is, undeniably, so much fun. Cash has panache; gift cards feel tame in comparison.

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