November 1, 2007, 12:00 AM

Shopping.com and eBay wrap up new gift card offers

Shopping.com is featuring gift cards and eBay has started selling gift cards offline that can be redeemed at PayPal-accepting eBay merchants. 40% of U.S. Internet users have bought at least $50 in gift cards in the past year, a new survey says.

More consumers are buying gift cards, mostly in stores but also online, and using them online and off. Two initiatives announced this week by Shopping.com and eBay illustrate the growth and multi-channel character of gift cards.

Comparison shopping site Shopping.com, which has sold gift cards in the past, has now created a section devoted just to gift cards that can be used at specific merchants. The landing page for the section, shopping.com/gift-cards, unveiled this week, highlights cards from 20 well-known merchants, and links to thousands of other gift card offers. Consumers can sort through those offers by price and retailer name. The gift cards typically can be used both in stores and online.

The new gift card section was launched two weeks ago and has quickly become one of the top 20 shopping categories at Shopping.com, says Alisa Weiner, general manager of online comparison shopping. Some merchants that market their products through Shopping.com previously had sold gift cards through the comparison shopping site, but Weiner says Shopping.com reached out this year to more merchants to create a section where consumers could find gift cards from many popular retailers.

Behind the initiative is the steady growth in consumer acceptance of gift cards, Weiner says. A new survey commissioned by Shopping.com found that 40% of U.S. Internet users say they have purchased at least $50 in gift cards in the past year. It adds that 77% of consumers would prefer to receive a gift card from their favorite retailer or restaurant over a tangible gift and 59% says they would prefer to give gift cards as presents. 85% say they plan to spend between $11 and $50 on each gift card they purchase. Weiner says the most popular gift card amount on Shopping.com has been $50.

Another survey by gift card processor Comdata Stored Value Solutions shows 40% of U.S. online consumers have purchased at least $50 worth of gift cards in the past year. While most gift cards are purchased in a retailer’s stores, the web is the second most common location for gift card purchases and gift card malls-racks in stores where many retailers’ gift cards are sold-are third, Comdata says.

EBay for the first time will sell its gift cards offline in gift card malls in 10,000 grocery stores, including Kroger, Safeway, Vons, Dominick’s, Fred Meyer and Ralphs. The $25 and $50 cards will be distributed by Blackhawk Network, a prepaid card provider owned by Safeway Inc. that helped pioneer the gift card mall concept.

“This is the first time eBay has offered a gift card offline, and we’re excited to extend the brand to consumers in this way at grocery retailers throughout the country,” says Gary Briggs, eBay’s chief marketing officer. “Giving an eBay Gift Card means giving your friends and loved ones the opportunity to shop on eBay.com and find exactly what they want this holiday season.”

Consumers can use the eBay gift cards to pay for purchases from eBay sellers that accept PayPal, a payment service owned by eBay.

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