The holidays are her favorite time of the year and Debbie, a busy mother of three, has found a savvy way of extending the joys of the season to many of her friends and family. "I buy gift cards," she says. "Not only are gift cards a really convenient gift to buy, but I give every person the option of getting what they want and more importantly, when they want it."

Patricia Pao, a retail expert and founder of The Pao Principle, a consultancy based in New York, agrees that gift cards are smart way of turning a short season into a year-long celebration, which is the general life span of the average card. "Gift cards offer a perpetual holiday at the recipient's demand," she observes. "They foster an ongoing dialogue throughout the year, since your recipients are likely to call you or write you and mention what they have bought with the gift card. It's a gift that does not end with the holiday."

Do you plan to purchase gift cards as holiday presents this year?
Don't Know3%

Clearly, women have been wooed by the ease and benefits afforded by gift cards in recent years, and they will be snapping them up again this year in strong numbers. Nearly three in four female respondents told the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ that they planned to purchase gift cards during the holiday season as presents for others. For the majority of women, gift cards give what women would like to receive; according to the Monitor, nearly one in two female respondents said that they want to receive a gift card this season.Forget impersonal gift certificates or cash, electronic gift cards are the new debit card for wish fulfillment, particularly when the card can be personalized by choice of retailer and, to a lesser degree, by color, pattern or even a photograph, considers Betsy Thompson, Director of Public Relations for Talbots, the national retailer. "Gift cards; what's not to love?," she opines. "A gift card is convenient and safe when you know the brand a person likes, but aren't sure of her size, favorite colors or personal style preferences. On the receiving end, gift cards can be a sigh of relief because you get a fun "excuse" to do a little indulgent shopping for yourself."

That excuse generally means the average female will be indulging herself in new apparel. When asked by the Monitor about their favorite item of choice to shop for, clothing was the number one choice, with 46% of female respondents selecting apparel. "We know from our research that when women want to shop and treat themselves, they are looking to buy apparel," says Melissa Bastos, Manager of Market Research for Cotton Incorporated. "Often a woman will trade up with a gift card and use it to defray the cost of a higher priced item; the card offers a nice justification for her."

"Gift cards are a great option, because they allow women to shop for apparel items that fit their bodies and who they are. We have found this to be true at Eddie Bauer, where our woman is using her gift cards to purchase apparel that supports her modern outdoor lifestyle and find her perfect fit," says Lisa Erickson, Director of Public Relations for the national retailer.

When asked exactly what women will want in apparel this holiday, Thompson from Talbots offers a quick hit list. "Comfy velour knit separates for lounging, yoga, errands and life beyond work, but also French terry robes, soft cotton knit or velour pajamas, cotton turtlenecks with subtle metallic stripes, and knit mittens, gloves and scarves." Comfort clearly appears to be an important trend both for gift giving and one's personal shopping this holiday and cotton seems to be a key factor in achieving this wardrobe nirvana. Shoppers who choose to give apparel as a gift would be wise to note that natural fibers, such as cotton, were the preference of 74% of female respondents, according to the Monitor.Men, in particular, may wish to take the aforementioned wish list into consideration, since they (at 64%) were slightly less likely than women (at 72%) to say they would buy gift cards this season. Men were also less likely (at 33%) to want to receive a gift card this season. These numbers likely reflect their feelings about shopping and the fact that men may not be the primary shoppers for gifts in their families, says Bastos, the researcher. "Men may be reluctant to give a gift that requires the recipient to do more shopping, when we know that the majority of men describe their apparel shopping experience as an activity they undertake simply to get what they need."

Women, however, do enjoy shopping as the numbers attest; 54% told the Monitor that they like or love shopping, and gift cards seem to be the perfect vehicle to help spread the love. "Think of a gift card as a gift of experience," says Pao, the retail expert. "It's a way of giving personal time to someone to indulge herself in solitude, or it's a way of sharing time. If you give a gift card to a child or young person, you are bringing the parent in on the gift process, allowing them to shop and explore together as a team," she observes.

It appears that smart shoppers everywhere will be wise to put their proverbial gift cards on the table.

This story is one in a series of articles based on findings from Cotton Incorporated's Lifestyle Monitor™ tracking research. Each story will focus on a specific topic as it relates to the American consumer and her attitudes and behavior regarding clothing, appearance, fashion, fiber selection and many other timely, relevant subjects.

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