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There is some disagreement amongst shoppers over the purchase of gift cards or certificates in lieu of more tangible gifts. Some would argue that giving a gift card is impersonal and a bit of a cop-out, amounting to little more than a cash exchange between gift-givers. And heaven help you if it is a mutual gift card exchange, but the value of the cards differs significantly.

But by and large, the gift card is an extremely popular gift and every holiday season more and more consumers are checking off their gift lists quickly and conveniently by picking up cards at various retailers. If selected with some consideration, the gift card can be an excellent alternative to the traditional boxed item gift. Gone are the hassles of the recipient having to return unwanted gifts or merchandise that doesn't fit; they pick out what they want, at their convenience. Here are a few things to keep in mind when going the gift card route:

Consider the recipient's hobbies & interests. Avoid the temptation to buy a stack of cards from one retailer for everyone on your list. One size doesn't always fit all, and it's better to choose a card that the recipient will actually use. Grandma may not be as thrilled with a Home Depot gift card as your Mr. Fix-It Dad.

Look beyond the usual suspects. Clothing, music, book and high-tech retailers top the gift card popularity list, but there's plenty more out there to choose from. For something a little different, consider: café/coffee cards for a co-worker or student; a long-distance phone card for friends and family abroad; a ticket/show card for the concert-lover, or a charity gift card (e.g. Kintera's CharityGift) for the big-hearted recipient that allows them to donate to a charity of their choice.

Wrap the card as you would a gift. Just because it's small doesn't mean you have to skimp on presentation. Many retailers now offer an attractive box or container for the card as well, so the fun of wrapping (and unwrapping) need not be lost.