Did iTunes and Kindle ruin Christmas?

Digital books, movies and music just don't wrap well, leading shoppers to lean more on gift cards.

By MSN Money Partner Nov 29, 2013 11:36AM
A selection of gift cards in a store
© Richard Levine / AlamyBy Maria LaMagna, MarketWatch

You know your uncle loves historical fiction and your cousin is crazy about sci-fi films; your sister’s favorite musical artist is no great mystery, and your boyfriend spends every spare moment playing video games.

Buying thoughtful gifts for everyone on your list should be a snap. But is it?

There are no books, movies, albums or games worth wrapping up, it seems, when everyone you know consumes all their media on an Apple (AAPL) iPad or one of Amazon's (AMZN) Kindle e-readers.

Which is why instead of giving the gift of books, music, and movies, many have no choice but to give gift cards. In fact, more than eight in 10 shoppers intend to give these flimsy bits of plastic as gifts this holiday season, according to the National Retail Foundation’s holiday spending survey, each spending an average of $163 -- an all-time high.

The good news for givers who decide to go the gift-card route: Six in 10 of those surveyed by the NRF put gift cards at the top of their wish list. And buying them is certainly easy. You can buy printable, e-mail-deliverable, or digital gift cards everywhere from Amazon to Facebook (FB) to iTunes. It’s one more reason that sitting behind a laptop has, for some, replaced the traditional trip to the bookstore, music retailer or department store before Christmas and Hanukkah.

Still, this shift to online purchasing hasn’t yet eliminated the holiday rush to brick-and-mortar stores, says Patricia Norins, a retail expert and spokesperson for Small Business Saturday. This year, the average family plans to spend $646 on gifts for the holiday season, according to a recent study from Accenture, an 11% increase from holiday spending in 2012 and four times as much as will be spend on gift cards. "At some point, if you’re only giving and getting gift cards, you might as well write each other a check," Norins says.

What’s more, “a large part of the holiday season still constitutes receiving and giving actual gifts. That’s part of the tradition,” Norins says.

Others agree. Consumers still want the experience of unwrapping a gift, because it is a public display and creates a personal connection, says Greg Girard, program director of IDC retail insights.

And Debra Gold, president strategic marketing and public relations firm Gold & Co., likens the process to sending a birthday card or a wedding invitation in print instead of in an email. “When the message really matters, it’s paper,” she says. “You choose the gift yourself. It’s not impersonal.” That’s why digital methods of buying and receiving gifts may complement, but won’t replace, a more traditional presentation, Girard says.

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Nov 29, 2013 1:59PM
I can see giving a gift card to a younger relative, but if you are exchanging gift cards with adults you might as well be exchanging cash.  If you don't know of something they truly want or need, a card and a token gift of booze/food/chocolate should be sufficient.  My wife and I came to the agreement that unless one of us asks for something or the other one finds something truly appropriate, we just exchange chocolate and cards on special occasions.  There's no need to have closets full of unused, unwanted gifts.
Dec 1, 2013 4:47PM
A gift card to Amazon, iApple, Best Buy, Microsoft, etc, are terrific gifts. I use them throughout the year for books, printer ink, music, etc.  Better than a bunch of junk I can't use and wasted money.  To each is own...
Dec 2, 2013 8:42AM
No, because Christmas has nothing to do with either.
Nov 29, 2013 3:31PM
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