Most everyone seems to be strongly opined as to whether or not gift cards are a good idea. I recently read an article coined "Gift Cards are the Worst Possible Present to Buy Someone This Christmas". Evidently that person thinks buying someone a gift card for a present is nothing short of Satan worship.
It's fine to purchase a gift card for someone - within reason, of course.
Take, for example, my sister. She's the sort of person who buys people really creative gifts...BUT not always useful gifts :) Instead of "settling" for a gift card to a place she knows I shop, she'll go above and beyond to find a gift that's really neat - but I don't want/use/need.
On the other hand, a year or so back, she gave me a "gift" of sorts - she cleaned out her closet -and presented me with a sweatshirt I'd given to HER for Christmas one year when I was in college. So, what, now my college isn't good enough to wear on a sweatshirt? Her excuse: "Well, it's so BIG on me, and it's just not in style anymore." What? It's a sweatshirt!
Once, when I was younger (she's 5 years my senior; I think I was 13-ish) I gave her an abstract pencil drawing of a horse. The next day, when I saw it on her desk, it had been altered. Shocked, I asked her WHY she'd change my drawing - "you didn't get this part right" was her reply.
Guess what dear sister gets for gifts these days - GIFT CARDS. If she wants to buy something at Target and then give it to me a year later, great :)
Or, another example would be my father. He's a very hard person to buy gifts for - someone who likes really obscure things I'd have a hard time deciphering from the scant occasions we actually have a chat. So, the first year I got him a $100 gift card to Fleet Farm and he actually gasped, his eyes widened, and he blurted out, "THANK YOU!" I thought, we have a winner. I haven't gotten that reaction since, but of course it's because he gets one every year now. He can then do what he LOVES to do - go browse the "Man's Mall" for odd little knick-knacks.
Now, that being said, there are certainly times when a gift card is a cop-out gift. There are times when someone is purely lazy and doesn't want to take the time to pick something out, or leaves the gift purchase to the last minute and has "no choice" but to settle for the little plastic card.
Hey, at least when I buy gift cards, I make sure I know the person will like the store. Sister and Dad, for example, have their favorite haunts and it's quite simple to know they're just waiting for an excuse to walk in and catch sight of all the goodies lining the shelves (and have an excuse to purchase said items - "well, I have this gift card!").
So, this Christmas (or whichever holiday season you celebrate), keep in mind that there IS a time for gift cards...