My Theory of Human Evolution (gift card edition)

The Sharper Image has gone bankrupt and will no longer honor gift cards. In the comments section of the Consumerist post about this, several people apparently fail to understand why gift cards exist:

Another reason why cash is a better gift than gift cards.

This is just a good example why you should never buy a gift card.

Did anyone ever NOT know that gift cards are stupid?

The real lesson here, as Consumerists know, is don’t buy gift cards. They are a bad deal even if the issuer doesn’t go bankrupt.

This is the low-rent version of the deadweight cost of Christmas idea, which I discussed earlier. At the risk of stating the obvious, the perfect gift shows you know a lot about the recipient; cash shows you know nothing. A gift card shows you know a little — where the person likes to shop. They are less wasteful but less gift-like than ordinary gifts, more wasteful and more gift-like than cash. Gifts are supposed to be wasteful. This is why they are nicely wrapped. (Curiously no commenter called gifts stupid, a scam, etc.) In evolutionary terms, gift-giving traditions evolved because they increased demand for seemingly “useless” stuff. Gifts that went unused and expensive wrappings weren’t actually useless; they helped artists and artisans make a living. They were research grants for material science.

4 Replies to “My Theory of Human Evolution (gift card edition)”

  1. I hope the sharper image situation will remind consumers to pay attention to what is going on with the company before buying a gift card, especially since many people hold on to gift cards for an extended period of time.

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