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Traci Bolle acclimated to accede allowance cards a cop-out. But not anymore.

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“This year, it’s added of an adequate gift,” said Bolle, of Columbia, Ill. “I’m big into the practical. I appetite to accord article bodies will absolutely use.”

So instead of affairs perfume, boots and sweaters that accompany and ancestors on her account may not like, she has absitively this year to buy abounding of them allowance cards from Macy’s, Dillard’s, Victoria’s Secret and iTunes.

Once derided as abstract last-minute gifts, allowance cards accept amorphous to lose their stigma as consumers accept become added focused on action and amount in the post-recession era.

Gift agenda sales abandoned forth with all-embracing customer spending in the aftermost few years. They additionally were aggressive afresh with heavily discounted cashmere sweaters and accessories that were priced so low it was adamantine to canyon them up.

But this year, allowance cards are accepted to be a champ of the anniversary arcade season. Kiosks alms allowance cards to dozens of altered restaurants and food accept become a all-over afterimage a the checkout curve of best big-box retailers.

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Americans are accepted to absorb an boilerplate of $145.61 on allowance cards, up from $139.91 aftermost year, for a absolute of $24.78 billion this anniversary season, according to the National Retail Federation. Retail analysis close NPD Group expects allowance agenda sales to abound 6 percent, compared with 1.5 to 2 percent for all-embracing anniversary spending.

Gift cards are accepted to accomplish up about 14 to 15 percent of the absolute anniversary purchases fabricated at West County Center this season, said Andy Goldacker, the mall’s accepted manager.

“This anniversary abandoned — Monday up until Christmas Eve — we’re bulging our allowance agenda aggregate to be greater than the aboriginal three months of 2011 combined,” he said.

Gift cards are not aloof accepted amid last-minute shoppers. They are cited in a cardinal of surveys as the best requested allowance by all kinds of consumers. In a poll by the bazaar analysis close SymphonyIRI, 49 percent of consumers said that allowance cards were their No. 1 best — aloft added options such as laptops, video amateur and clothes.

“This year there’s aloof such a focus on functionality,” said Susan Viamari, a consumer-trends analyst with SymphonyIRI. “Consumers are aggravating to be so frugal and so advised with all of the purchases they are making, and that translates to the anniversary arcade season.”

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Helping ammunition the absorption in allowance cards is the actuality that there are no new items demography the bazaar by storm this year, said Marshal Cohen, arch retail analyst with the NPD Group. Digital readers, mp3 players, and iPods were amid the hot items aftermost year.

“It’s the aforementioned old articles all over again,” he said.

Gift cards additionally are ambrosial because they can accept a college perceived value, Cohen said. If you accord addition a allowance card, they can use it buy to commodity that may be heavily discounted in post-holiday sales.

“So the $100 allowance agenda I gave you ends up accepting a $200 value,” Cohen said.

But there are pitfalls with allowance cards. The recipients can lose them — or the banker may go out of business.

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Last year, consumers absent about $5 billion in allowance agenda amount — compared with $87 billion in allowance agenda sales during all of aftermost year — due to bedevilled value, cessation or accident of allowance cards, according to the analysis close TowerGroup.

This year, however, TowerGroup expects that accident to be cut in bisected to $2.5 billion because of federal regulations that took aftereffect in August.

The new law ensures that allowance cards cannot expire for at atomic bristles years from the date of purchase. It additionally mandates that cessation fees can be answerable alone afterwards a agenda hasn’t been acclimated for at atomic one year.

Perhaps no one loves allowance cards as abundant as retailers themselves. Retailers accept been announcement allowance cards on billboards, in their account ads and in their stores. Who can accusation them? There’s a 116 percent about-face on allowance cards, Cohen said, acceptation that aback barter redeem them, they usually end up spending added than the allowance agenda value.

To argue shoppers still alert of affairs allowance cards, retailers accept been rolling out added accretion and whistles this year. Home Depot is alms a video e-card that allows buyers to accomplish a video bulletin to go forth with the gift. Target has an “Elfin’ Around” allowance agenda that allows buyers to almanac a bulletin that plays aback in an elf’s voice. And Walmart has a scratch-and-sniff agenda that smells like gingerbread.

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Other cards ablaze up or can be beatific via argument bulletin or e-mail. Even Facebook is alms a allowance agenda this year that gives the almsman credits that can be acclimated for amateur and applications.

Many retailers banal shelves and add new commodity in January to accord bodies with allowance cards affidavit to redeem them. For example, Overland-based Build-A-Bear Workshop is introducing new blimp animals — Darling Doggies — on the day afterwards Christmas.

Walgreens has bumped up the cardinal of altered allowance cards it carries to about 200 this year in apprehension of acute demand, said Robert Elfinger, a aggregation spokesman. Best of its allowance agenda sales will appear this anniversary in the aftermost canicule arch up to Christmas.

“With our locations and our accessibility and our hours, we are absolutely ill-fitted for last-minute Christmas shopping,” Elfinger said.

Chris Catanzaro, of Hazelwood, chock-full in at a Walgreens on Lindell Boulevard this anniversary on her way to assignment to aces up a allowance agenda for her brother. He brand pizza, so she absitively to get him a allowance agenda for Pizza Hut.

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With the barring of some toys for her nieces and nephews, about all of the ability she buys these canicule are allowance cards.

“It’s easier,” she said. “I don’t accept to run about everywhere. And I anticipate they can use it more.”

Colleen Horn, 18, of Ferguson, said some of her accompany aish allowance cards as admonition signs that the giver waited until the aftermost minute to shop. That ability be the case in some instances, she said.

“But I like them because a lot of bodies don’t apperceive me actual able-bodied and don’t apperceive what to get me,” she said. “I feel bad demography being back, abnormally from my grandma, who thinks I’m still 6. She buys me being that’s way too baby or that has little characters on it.”

[Editor’s note: Correcting story to reflect actuality that the iPod, not the iPad, was accepted aftermost year as a gift. The iPad was not alien until this year.]

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