We have plastic gift cards, e-gift cards, mobile gift cards, and gift credits. We also have retailer gift cards, bank issued gift cards, and exchangeable gift cards (generic card that must be exchanged for a retailer gift card). Then there’s promotional gift cards that expire versus regular gift cards that don’t. The variations go on. And if that isn’t enough, we now have an array of Gift Card Apps to choose from as well.
Whenever I get into a discussion on gift card apps, I invariably have to explain that there are different types of gift card apps. The reason these apps are confusing, in my opinion, is because they support different types of gift cards themselves. So in order to understand the app, you have to understand the gift card it’s meant to work with.
Below is a list of categories I used to describe gift card apps:
1. Gift Card Organizers for Retailer Gift Cards
I won’t lie. These are my favorite apps because they work well with the gift cards I use most often. GoWallet, TangoCard, and Gyft are gift card management apps that help you track both plastic and electronic retailer gift cards. After you enter a gift card into the app (key in the card number and PIN), the app automatically links to the retailer site and reports back the balance of the gift card. No more going up to the cash register thinking you have $25 to spend only to find out the balance is about $2.99.
Features I like:
- Easy to see what gift cards you have and how much money is on each.
- Helps ensure gift cards get used (some apps have alerts to remind you).
- Integrated with several retailers so gift card balance is always accurate.
- Can redeem gift cards via phone online or at the register without having to carry plastic or e-gift card.
- Can send instant e-gift cards via app to friends and family.
The only thing missing for me with these apps is that there’s no integration for bank-issued gift cards like a Visa gift card. You can enter those gift cards manually, but can’t get up-to-date balances. And you can only send an e-gift card for the retailers they have available. You can’t send a Visa or MasterCard gift card through these apps.
2. Gift Card Trackers for Retailer Gift Cards
Gift Card Trackers or Gift Lists are really just simple apps to help you manually enter and keep track of gift cards and cash. These apps simply give you a place to record the gift cards in your wallet. There’s no automated balance check so it’s up to you to enter the data and keep it current.
3. Mobile Gift Card Websites for Retailer and Bank Issued Gift Cards
Most retailers (e.g. Amazon.com, HomeDepot.com) and gift card companies (e.g. GiftCards.com) now offer a way to send and receive e-gift cards via their mobile-enabled websites. So although not technically apps, you can buy, send, and receive gift cards via a smartphone so the website feels like an app.
4. Gift Card Credits or Gift Credits
Apps like Giftly and soon-to-be launched GiftYa offer the ability to send and receive gift credits. Essentially, rather than sending a gift card, you send a credit towards an “experience” such as dinner on the town, a day of pampering, and so forth. Money is applied to the recipient’s credit card when the experience is redeemed. Removing the gift card from the equation, this is more of a money-transfer from the giver’s credit card to the recipient’s credit card.
Features I like:
- Can send instant gift credits via app to friends and family.
- Picking an experience makes the gift card more personal.
- Gift credits are redeemable at major retailers and small businesses alike.
- The recipient can exchange the gifted experience for one more preferred.
I can’t say I’m fully ready for this new type of gifting, but it is the future. So I expect these players to have it figured out by the time I’m ready to embrace it.
5. Promotional Gift Card Apps
This is a difficult category for me to describe much less use. Apps like Wrapp and Juno Wallet are based around gift cards, but have different end games. Both offer ways to earn low-value gift cards that are more like coupons. For example, when I first logged on to Wrapp, I received a gift card for a one-month subscription to the Wall Street Journal. If I want to give a friend a gift card through Wrapp, I can select a free $10 gift card to Fab.com, $5 at American Apparel and so forth. Wrapp delivers the free gift card through Facebook. I can, of course, add to the dollar value by purchasing a gift card to send as well. But honestly I find the app more confusing than value-add. (I couldn’t decline the Wall Street Journal gift card. I had to add it to my wallet to continue with the app.)
Juno Wallet started out as an organizer but has morphed into more of a game where you earn free gift cards for performing tasks. Works for some, but I’m not a gamer. So the app doesn’t work for me.
Just as an after-market of discount gift cards has emerged on the tail of gift cards, so has a dredge of gift card apps designed to capitalize on this new plastic we keep. Some apps help us get more organized, some help us earn free gift cards, and others are looking to get rid of gift cards entirely. My hope would to have one really great app that does all of those things…except the gaming. I don’t need games. I just want to be able to organize and use the gift cards I have plus be able to deliver personalized gift cards to others. That’s it.
If you find a gift card app I should test out, let me know about it. I’m always game for that.