Gift cards more popular than ever

A grocery store rack displays dozens of brands and denominations of gift cards.

A grocery store rack displays dozens of brands and denominations of gift cards.

Gift cards can be a savior for busy holiday shoppers as well as a way for recipients to avoid facing another plaid tie under the tree.

And despite their criticism of being a thoughtless gift, we’re buying more of them than ever.

For retailers, it’s a great way to earn profits before selling products. For savvy consumers, they can also be advantageous.

First, the major pitfall for consumers: About $5 billion, or about 6 percent, of what Americans spend on gift cards this year won’t be used, including what’s lost to fees, according to TowerGroup. That’s down from a high of 10 percent in 2007, said Brian Riley, research director at the financial-services consulting firm.

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