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Gift card sales get off to a soft start

Bad weather may have dampened purchases on the first weekend of the holiday-shopping season, and shoppers have fewer days this year to shop for everyone on their lists.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Sales of restaurant gift cards jumped 9.7% on Black Friday from the level of a year ago but cooled the following day, holding the increase for the first big holiday-shopping weekend as a whole to under 4%, according to payment processor Paytronix Systems.

The Grinch at work appeared to be the weather. Card sales plummeted 14.1% on Saturday, Nov. 30, when many areas of the country were socked with snowstorms and frigid weather. Sales jumped 22.8% the following day, indicating that consumers tried to make up the lost shopping time. But this year’s traditional holiday shopping window is several days shorter than the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas stretch of 2018. 

Brands will need to work hard with promotions to ensure they get the most out of the season,” Michelle Tempesta, Paytronix’s head of marketing, said in a statement. 

Overall, American consumers will spend 3.8% to 4.2% more on holiday shopping this year than they did in 2018, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). Cards preloaded with cash remain the most frequently requested gifts, with 59% of consumers including the cards on their wish lists, according to the trade group.

Cards redeemable at restaurants will account for about 35% of the ones purchased this year, the NRF says.  Shoppers tend to buy three to four cards of all types, and to load them with $47 on average.

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