Gift cards are going viral, with half now able to be sent electronically this holiday season, according to the annual survey by the North Palm Beach-based Bankrate.com and CreditCards.com.
Some 51 percent of 63 gift card vendors -- from retailers to restaurants -- offer instant online delivery, the survey found.
That's up from last year's 41 percent sending gift cards via e-mail, said Janna Herron, a gift- and credit card expert at Bankrate.com, a consumer financial website.
"With more companies offering virtual gift cards, it's easier and faster to get your loved one a gift they can use,'' she said.
The American Express credit card and retailers such as Best Buy, Gap and Pizza Hut, became among the latest companies to offer the e-cards, Herron added.
Meanwhile, Target and Starbucks recently introduced mobile-specific gift cards and Amazon.com began allowing customers to send gift cards via Facebook.
"In some cases, gift cards are even better than cash because they provide added benefit such as free shipping or delivery," Herron said.
A 2009 federal law have also made them more consumer friendly: Only 8 percent now have expiration dates or maintenance fees while 14 percent charge purchase fees, she said.
Gift cards are now on 57 percent of Americans' holiday wish list -- the highest rate ever, according to a survey conducted this season by the National Retail Federation.
In fact, it remains the most popular gift with consumers putting a gift card ahead of clothing (50 percent), electronics (35 percent) and jewelry (23 percent), according to the federation.
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