The Uninventor: Gift Cards

17 Dec 2011

Dedicated to un-inventing things that seem like a good idea, but aren't.

Today: Stored-value gift cards.

I see Christmas, like everything else, as a test. Do I really know people well enough to pick something they'd like? (and if not, why not?) So I don't read wishlists, I ignore hints, and I don't give gift certificates.

Except when there's no other option, where the gift is closer to a tip than a real gift, but it really should still be done. Really all I know about this recipient is that she lives nearby. I want to support the newly-opened Hackney Picture House at the same time. Two movie tickets, please.

What I wanted is a couple of tickets - intuitive, easy, just with "any session" printed in place of the show name and time.

What I got was a debit card. Magnetic stripe. A6 page of instructions on how to use it. No idea, other than the note I'll have to write, of what it's actually good for.

In theory it's better, because it works more than once, gradually depleting the stored value (which just happens to be exactly enough for two adult tickets). But it's cold, meaningless, complicated, and actually worse for everyone.

If she goes on a Monday and it's only £8, not £20? I don't care! The cinema has achieved what I wanted, and they're welcome to keep the extra money. Gift certs are inherently wasteful anyway, dominated in every way but "thought" by cash, and I really don't mind. I don't need change.

I'm not really complaining. The card is nicely packaged, I'm sure it'll work fine, and @HackneyPH were very helpful over twitter. But they've put a lot of work into this, work that actually makes the result worse, and it's that waste that annoys me.

I vote we uninvent the unnecessarily high-tech stored-value card and go back to a certificate for an experience. Let's keep the money out of this.