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Starbucks gift cards a huge hit with last-minute shoppers

Starbucks expects record number of sales of gift cards on Christmas Eve, despite the decreasing popularity of gift cards overall in the US. 

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A red Starbucks cup sits on the counter of a Starbucks in New York November 10, 2015. Starbucks is expecting a record number of gift card sales for the holiday season.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters/File

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America may “run on Dunkin’,” but Starbucks gift cards continue to fuel the holiday season.

Last year, Starbucks reported nearly 2.5 million gift cards purchased on Christmas Eve in the US and Canada. This year, the company is predicting their 2015 Christmas Eve gift card sales will break records as last minute holiday shoppers scramble to purchase gifts.  

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“One in seven American adults received a Starbucks Card last holiday season, and Starbucks is on track for another record performance in Starbucks Card sales,” the company stated in a press release Tuesday.

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Nearly six in 10 (55.8 percent) Americans say they would like to receive a gift card this holiday season, according to a recent survey from the National Retail Federation (NRF). For the ninth straight year, gift cards were the most-requested item in the survey. 

An estimated $25 billion have been loaded on Starbucks gift cards since they became available 15 years ago, according to Starbucks. During the 2014 holiday season (October through December) alone, customers loaded more than $1.6 billion onto Starbucks Cards.

Overall, the NRF expects $25.9 billion to be spent on gift cards in 2015.

Despite the record breaking numbers for Starbucks, spending on gift cards as a whole is on the decline.

“Retailers’ early promotions and exclusive offerings have made it easier for consumers to find everything they need without having to consider raiding the gift card rack,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay in a press release. “That said, there is an interesting disconnect between gift givers and gift recipients this year as gift cards still top millions of Americans’ wish lists.”

For the first time since 2009, spending on gift cards will experience a small drop. The NRF Gift Card Spending Survey found those planning on buying gift cards will spend $153.08 on average ($44.83 per card) compared to $172.74 last year. The majority of gift card purchasers cited the practicality of gift cards, which allow giftees to select their own gifts.

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In contrast, the popularity of gift cards in Canada continues to grow. Eighty-seven percent of Canadians polled have purchased and received gift cards in the last year – an increase from 68 percent in 2010, according to Blackhawk Network's 2015 Canada Gift Card Survey. The majority of Canadians polled enjoyed receiving gift cards so they could pick out their own gift and enjoyed giving them for the same reason.

Starbucks, possibly in an attempt to revitalize their gift card offerings in the US, has unveiled a luxury Swarovski crystal-encrusted gift card. The exclusive gift card sells at $200 and comes preloaded with $50.

The holiday cheer Starbucks expects from gift cards sales comes after a series of minor holiday controversies for the coffee company. In early November, some criticized the company for their simple new holiday cup designs, which lacked Christmas adornments. In early December, Christmas criticism of Starbucks continued over allegations that their polar bear cookies depicted wounded animals.