Understanding the Next Stage in American Gift Card Usage


Although COVID-19 may never disappear completely, vaccines and milder strains are allowing Americans to reconnect to the world around them. Just a couple of months ago, almost 70% of Americans said they feel comfortable socializing with people in public places.1

This return to in-person events means that we all have some catching up to do. People want to make good on weddings that were postponed and graduations and birthdays that were missed. Since gift cards offer the choice and flexibility people want, gift cards in America are about to enter a new phase, too. They’re about to be more popular than ever.

To help our partners (and future partners) understand exactly where gift cards fit into American society today (and tomorrow), Blackhawk Network did some homework, creating a new state of the union report in ebook form-From Pandemic to Endemic. This blog will take you through some of the key findings.

Gift cards are welcome gifts

Whether physical or digital, people love to receive gift cards. And digital gift cards are more popular than ever, as adoption of this convenient format has jumped years ahead of our projections during the pandemic years. Usage of mobile wallets has jumped, as well.

All in all, the once-wide gap between physical and digital gift cards is disappearing.

The numbers tell the story:2

gift cards preferences

Here’s some better news (if you’re rooting for gift cards): Once thought of as an impersonal gift, gift cards are now seen as especially thoughtful. In fact, a whopping 97% say gift cards are, indeed, a thoughtful gift. 2

Here are the instances that our state of the union research respondents say gift cards are viewed as thoughtful:

Gift cards are purchased for self-use, too

You may be surprised to hear that 58% of consumers purchase gift cards for self-use. 2 It’s not the first thing people think of when picturing gift cards, but it’s something that’s growing in popularity every year. Your gift card program can encourage self-use easily by promoting digital gift cards or eGifts.

Why are people gifting themselves gift cards? We thought you’d never ask. Here’s what they told us during our research: 2

Gift cards accessbility

Introducing the next generation of gift card users: Gen Z

Gen Z are the youngest workers in the American workforce (only 10% are already working full-time) and the most diverse generation in the US. They’ve had a very different childhood than previous generations, having grown up in a connected world of smartphones and social media. Understanding Gen Z will be a blueprint for understanding the future of gift card usage, so let’s get to know them.

  • They shop differently
    Gen Z is more likely to be an omnichannel shopper-that is, they engage with any or all of a brand’s store, website, app and social media channels. To them, visiting Target’s Instagram page is the same as visiting a store. Naturally, these digital natives show no gap at all between digital and physical gift card adoption (73% want digital gift cards, 75% want physical gift cards2).
  • They’re big on flexibility
    More than any other generation, Gen Z shoppers are more likely to prefer multi-brand gift cards-single cards that are good at 4-6 brands. These cards give them more choices for redemption and the power to spend money in more places.
  • They’re savvy and unsentimental
    Retailers continue to build customer loyalty with things like loyalty points, friendly social media banter and sincere apologies, and they should. Unfortunately, those efforts don’t impress Gen Z. They know what you’re doing and why, and it comes off as a necessary part of doing business as opposed to something special.

    Here’s how Gen Z’s responses about getting a reward from business compared to all other groups in our research: 2

Genz reward from business

Talk to Blackhawk Network

As your customers grow and adapt to the digital landscape, social media and the ever-changing pandemic, the world of gift cards changes, too. To get more information and insights, download the complete Blackhawk Network ebook, From Pandemic to Endemic.

Then, to find out how to guide your gift card program into the future, talk to Blackhawk Network. Just click here or call 866.219.7533.


1. Tracking the Return to Normal: Socializing, Morning Consult, May 2022

2. Blackhawk Network EQ Global State of the Union Insights, Blackhawk Network, 2022

Global BHN - Start A Conversation