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Gift card sales booming during the holidays

Most shoppers will buy at least one

Finding nearly endless choices, consumers are embracing the idea of gift cards, making the presents people will receive this holiday season just as likely to come in an envelope as in a box.

Gift cards continue to top lists of most popular purchases this season, spurring billions in sales for merchants. The category is growing quickly and moving toward a day when, some believe, the plastic cards could be replaced by electronic ones.

Cards that can be used to buy at stores, restaurants, gas stations, spas, movie theaters and other outlets have become big business, with purchases expected to reach $138 billion in the United States this year, according to estimates from CEB Tower Group. That's a 10 percent jump over gift card spending in 2014, and Tower Group analysts expect similar growth through 2020, when sales are expected to leap to $178 billion.

More than four in five shoppers — 81 percent — plan to buy at least one gift card this season and spend, on average, $156.86 for cards, a survey by the National Retail Federation showed.

That per-person average spending is the highest in the survey's 10-year history, with total holiday gift card spending expected to amount to $39 billion. Nearly 60 percent of those polled in the NRF survey said they'd like to get gift cards this year, a slight increase from 2014.


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