Best Gift Cards for the Holidays 2016

Originally published by Brian O’Connell on The Street and picked up by MSN.

Historians may not write serious, somber tomes on the subject, but gift cards are beginning to have a legacy—at a time when they’re wildly popular with the consumer public.

Best Gift CardsThe first gift card, in fact, was produced in 1994 by Blockbuster, a company that’s gone the way of the dodo bird and civilized political discourse. Since then, gift cards have grown into a $120 billion annual business.

Consumers really do love buying gift cards even if they don’t enjoy receiving them. A 2015 study by CashStar, a prepaid commerce solutions provider, reported a 91% satisfaction rate among online gift card purchasers. Merchants favor them, too. In 2015, roughly $1 billion in purchased gift cards went unused, according to LendEDU, a student loan debt service provider, based in Hoboken, N.J.

But all things being equal, some gift cards do outclass others, and LendEDU says it has the proof. The company recently reviewed 101 major U.S. company gift cards, using five key criteria—popularity, average purchase discounts, average resale value, the “happiness” value of receiving a gift card and shipping charges.