When you haven't got a clue what to buy someone, a gift voucher seems a good idea. It somehow feels less vulgar than sending money.
You tell yourself that the recipient can buy something that they really want rather than the pair of socks or the sweater that you'd normally buy. Vouchers also have the added benefit that you don't need to wrap them and they cost very little to post.
However, many of the £1bn of gift tokens received on December 25 will never be used. The Voucher Association, the industry's trade body, admits that a quarter of them are unlikely to be redeemed. In those cases the shops have had your cash for nothing.
Retailers even gain from the tokens that are cashed in, as customers top them up by an average 40% of their face value and since an average of six weeks pass before a voucher is redeemed, it also serves the the retailer as an interest-free loan.
I can remember our girls getting gift vouchers as presents. Inevitably it would cost us money to top up the ones they used and the ones they didn't use we had to buy off them to use ourselves. It wasn't so bad when they got M&S vouchers but those from shops with a smaller range of goods were a pain in the butt.