Gift cards that double as actual gifts

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Prepaid gift cards – long considered the ultimate cop-out present – are getting a little more interesting this year.

A new line of Best Buy gift cards come with built-in speakers. This is not a buy-this-get-that deal – the card itself doubles as a mini boombox. A plug attached to the back of the gift card can connect to a computer or music player. Best Buy makes no promises about the sound quality, but the gadget is free if you put at least $50 on the card.

This year, Target engineered a teeny digital camera into some gift cards. The 8MB point-and-shoot is not as thin as a credit card, but about the right height and width. While only capable of 1.3 megapixel pictures (less than some cameraphones), the twofer card also comes with a coupon for 40 free prints at the Target photo center. And just as with Best Buy, the camera/card is free if you put at least $50 on it.

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These multifunction cards have probably been in development for a while, but they’re landing at the right time. With the economy slipping, one survey says that 59 percent of shoppers plan to cut back on holiday shopping this year – and only 4 percent plan to spend more. Perhaps these gimmicky gift cards will be enough to ensure that shoppers spend their bucks on Target and Best Buy cards and not on the boring pieces of plastic offered at other shops.

Then again, $50 is a lot to spend on glorified party favors. If I received one of these cards, I’d probably head to Target and get a real camera. (They’re getting pretty cheap these days.) Not to mention, the extra bells and whistles mean that even more waste winds up in a garbage heap a few months after Christmas.

But, who can blame them for trying. The Monitor reported last week that shoppers could spend up to $94 billion on gift cards this year – and 10 percent of that value will “never be redeemed in their entirety, some $9 billion in unused funds remain in retailer’s coffers.”

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