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Gift Card Buying Trends explores who buys gift cards, when, where, why and how. It compares shoppers' intentions pre-holiday 2008 with their holiday gift card purchase behaviors to predict what may be in store for the 2009 holiday shopping season.
With the invention of the gift card the process of giving gifts (a major American ritual that drives billions of dollars in sales each year) has gotten slightly more personal than giving cash itself since today's gift cards almost always link to a retailer, restaurant or brand that the card giver hopes the recipient will use.
While giving gift cards for supermarkets, discount stores, restaurants and department stores are popular and pragmatic choices, consumers now have the option to give charity gift cards, which enable recipients to spend the gift card to support their favorite charity.
Seattle-based TisBest (www.TisBest.org), founded in 2007 by Erik Marks, provides consumers with a vehicle by which they can “give twice”: Once when they give a TisBest card to a recipient, and again when that recipient chooses from among the hundreds of TisBest-selected charities and nonprofits. According to Erik, humans have an inherent need to give gifts to build relationships, but in our materially wealthy world, gifts of more “stuff” are not desirable. TisBest aims to offer an alternative. With a TisBest Charity Gift Card, says Erik, the gift given is an opportunity to change the world just a little bit by supporting a nonprofit organization the gift recipient believes in.
HartBeat interviewed Erik to find out about this new twist on the practice of giving gifts, which it turns out, parallels several ongoing trends, not the least of which is the sustainability-oriented trend of simplification and a movement away from over-consumption.
Maybe you could talk a little about how TisBest got started?
TisBest dates for me all the way back to 1991. I was in law school, talking with a friend, and the holidays were coming up. It was around November and we were experiencing something that a lot of people experience. We were faced with buying gifts for adult relatives who were relatively well-to-do, and we were frustrated because these people didn't need anything and yet it was incumbent on us to show up with a gift. We talked about how odd it was that what was supposed to be a relationship-building experience between two people—the exchanging of gifts—had become in our materially wealthy society, a frustrating experience for two people.
We were frustrated trying to figure out a gift to get because we knew that when we showed up with this gift that if they really wanted it they would have gone out and bought it for themselves. We knew they'd have to find a place to put the gift in their house—throwing it away wasn't socially acceptable—and maybe they'd even have to pull it out when we came to visit. We talked about how odd this was that something that was supposed to be relationship building had become a bit of a burden. So we put our heads together and said "What would be a better way? We need to give gifts as humans.
This is something I often come back to: gift giving is fundamental to human relationships. You look at small children and a kid will find a pine cone and run across a yard and give it to you—it touches your heart. When I was younger my grandmother used to play Bingo and save up quarters as her winnings and give them to us. That was a gift from my grandmother. So the child gives what the child can and the 90-year-old grandmother gives what she can. Those are the gifts I can remember. I've been given far more valuable gifts by other adults throughout my life, but I don't remember those gifts. So, it's not the gift that matters, it's the giving.
It sounds like you’re trying to improve upon the process of giving itself.
Yeah, very much so. We’re trying to offer an alternative. I like to use the word 'stuff' because it’s so encompassing and a little bit derogatory towards all of it. We all regret the accumulation of 'stuff.' 'Stuff' doesn’t refer to what’s sitting on our mantle, it refers to what’s sitting in our garage. What we (Tisbest) are is an alternative to giving more stuff as gifts. My 1991 discussions were about what would be a better solution than the giving of 'stuff.' We thought while giving charity was good there wasn’t a good way to give it. I could give to a charity and tell someone I had given to that charity in their name, but that sort of makes me think of, 'I got a great bottle of merlot in your name and then I drank it. And it was good!'
And they aren’t really involved if you’re giving that way, are they?
Part of it, is just that, going back to the childhood or the grandmother examples, it’s pleasurable to give. When I give and tell someone else that gave, I’m the one that did the giving, I took the benefit of that gift and gave it myself. I want to give someone else the joy of giving. That’s why we built Tisbest, so you could give someone the pleasure of sharing with others.
It’s a customized gift in a lot of ways, you give them an amount and they can choose from 250 different charities that appeal to them.
Yes, and you can buy a gift card in 3 different formats. You can send the gift card in email, you can print it on your printer at home or you can ask us to send a plastic card version to you or the recipient. You can choose any message you want for the card and you can put a message on it. For us, this whole experience of packaging with messaging was very important and it goes above and beyond what people can do in stores with gift cards.
You have a wide variety of charities, environmentally oriented, food-related programs…can you talk about any trends you’re seeing in where people are directing those gift cards to?
Anyone can go to our homepage (www.tisbest.org) and see where the money is being directed. My experience is mostly anecdotal, one of the huge differences, out here in Seattle is that there are a lot of people who are very environmentally focused. Within my community I see huge support for environmental organizations. It’s not as strong as what’s reflected by national interest on the Tisbest website. If you look at the Tisbest website, humanitarian and healthcare needs are very high on the list, and then you have children and pets and then you see some environmental organizations coming in.
Have you noticed any change since the economic downturn? Have people shifted on where they’re giving?
What I do see is people coming to Tisbest and using messages on their cards and in their communications with each other where they indicate that their choice to give Tisbest instead of a store gift card is in response to the economic downturn and the increasing troubles people around them are having.
Do you see any occasions where people tend to use Tisbest often? Weddings? Holidays?
By a huge margin our largest amount of sales happen in November and December for the holidays. I think that a lot of that is because that is a time when people are expected to give gifts and they’re scratching their heads about what to give. Another reason, giving to charity is a social phenomenon at the end of the year. One of my favorite occasions, one that I’ve seen and never anticipated, is people using Tisbest as a way to introduce their children to giving. People who are involved in philanthropy and have growing children who have probably never given away themselves, they can give the child a charity gift card and the child has a very autonomous opportunity to research which charity to support.