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Gift Cards Becoming a Popular Alternative

Gift Cards Becoming a Popular Alternative

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(NBC News) -- If you're not buying gifts, you are probably buying one of the most popular alternatives: Gift cards.

The cards are growing more popular, and have brought billions of dollars in sales to retailers.

If the thought of spending hours tracking down holiday gifts for everyone on your list is enough to bring tears to your eyes, join the growing list of consumers taking a popular short cut this year: Gift cards.

Craig Strent / Card Buyer: "It's obviously convenient just to be able to get a gift card and let them us get wherever they want. It's a very simple gift and it certainly saves time."

Dorothy Campbell / Card Buyer: "A lot of time, I don't know, where I would be probably looking in stores for hours, I probably haven't spent more than a couple of hours picking up all of the gift cards and there are a lot of them."

Here at Westfield, Montgomery, a steady stream of shoppers is skipping past the individual stores and heading straight to the gift card counter.

Mary Donatelli / Card Buyer: "I don't want to make those decisions for them. It brings up all the possibilities. They can go buy clothes, and pretty much anything else. I think it's a great thing for a teacher."

According to the National Retail Federation, gift card sales are expected To be up about seven percent in 2005 for a total of 18.5 billion in sales.

You don't even have to go to the mall, stores like safeway grocery Have greatly expanded their offerings.

Craig Munkle / Safeway: "It's really, it runs the gamut. If there's a business out there we probably have a gift card for it."

From favorites like Nordstrom, Sharper Image, to interesting new options Like American Airlines, Starbucks, Red Lobster, even bass pro shops. A procrastinator's paradise, since they'll all be here on Christmas day, when many safeways will be open.

Craig Munkle / Safeway: "Oh, I forgot someone's coming, I didn't get them a gift. This is a great opportunity to knock that out and you're prepared."

Remember, some gift cards carry hidden fees. Some cards charge a monthly maintenance fee, some charge a service fee for use, and others charge a fee to check the card's balance.

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