February 5, 2014, 11:04 AM

Late holiday shoppers choose digital over plastic gift cards

More than half of online gift card buyers, 57%, chose digital over plastic in December.

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Gift cards are a popular choice for gift givers short on time and ideas at the holidays, and gift card purchasing data from December show gift givers also choose fast and simple for their delivery. 57% of consumers buying gift cards online in December bought a digital card versus the 43% that opted for a physical card, according to InComm, which provides gift card services to online retailers. InComm’s data is based on the gift card transactions it handled for its retailer clients.

InComm does not say what percentage of online shoppers bought gift cards overall, but a survey the National Retail Federation trade group conducted in early November found 80.6% of U.S. shoppers intended to buy at least one gift card during the holiday season, with 12.7% of U.S. shoppers saying they intended to make at least one gift card purchase online.

The preference for digital versions of gift cards—which usually only require the buyer to share the e-mail address of the gift recipient to get it delivered—rose sharply the closer to Christmas. In the six days leading up to Christmas, 80% of consumers buying gift cards online bought a digital version versus 20% who opted for a physical card.

In a call with analysts at the end of January, Starbucks Corp. CEO Howard Schultz called gift cards the “gift of choice” during the holiday season for Starbucks shoppers. He said the retailer processed more than 40 million new Starbucks card activations, valued at over $610 million in the U.S. and Canada alone, in the first quarter, which for Starbucks ended Dec. 29. Starbucks is No. 454 in the 2013 Internet Retailer Top 500.

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