BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Amid supply chain issues resulting in emptying store shelves, the most common present under the Christmas tree this year may be a gift card, according to a retail expert at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.
“Everything I have read says there’s plenty of demand. I wonder what it’s going to get spent on,” said John Talbott, director of the Center for Education and Research in Retailing at Kelley. “I think this is the year of the gift card for many retailers.
“Companies like Target, Walmart, and Amazon have been able to use their scale and influence to overcome some of the supply issues that we all are experiencing. Target’s CEO was adamant in stating the their shelves will be full and ready for customers during the most recent earnings call from the company. Still, I expect that there will still be specific items that will not be available, which makes gift cards a strong alternative to capture the consumers demand without having the specific item.
“I got on Home Depot’s website just the other day and the first thing they showed were gift cards,” Talbott added “So, I’m wondering if store management is already having these discussions, that ‘if we don’t have what they want, we’ll have it for them later. Let’s make sure they buy a gift card instead.”
Interestingly, if that is the approach of these publicly traded retail companies, they better talk to Wall Street, because gift card purchases won’t count as a sale from an accounting standpoint. Of course, stores will get that sales revenue later when consumers use the gift cards and it may be even more profitable because a significant percentage of gift cards are never used.
“If there’s a 5 or 6 percent shift to gift card purchases instead of physical items, that’s a 5 percent reduction in sales,” he said. “It’s going to be an interesting thing to keep an eye on and how the financial communications arms of these big public companies make sure Wall Street is aware that demand is being captured, just not reported as a sale.”
While adults may appreciate that a gift card represents money that can be spent at a future time, Talbott understands that message will not be cheerfully received by many children. He suggests that parents need to explain the concept of patience and perhaps consider spreading their gift giving throughout the “12 Days of Christmas” and not just on Dec. 25.
“If it were my kids, I would be managing expectations,” Talbott said.