More than four in five Americans will exchange gift cards in 2012.

The US market for gift cards has grown to $110 billion this year, equal to China’s defence budget.

According to the latest research by CEB TowerGroup, this surge in popularity is being driven by credit card companies, whose “open-loop” cards can be redeemed anywhere and equate to $40 billion in sales, as well as restaurant gift cards said to be worth $19 billion in 2012 and merchant cards such as iTunes vouchers (worth $36 billion).

However, electronic gift cards will only total US$3 billion, suggesting that they are yet to move into the mainstream.

Nevertheless 267 million Americans (roughly 85 per cent of the population) are expected to have exchanged gift cards by the end of the year and 75 per cent of recipients will spend the full amount of money on their card.

And while 30 per cent of recipients will actually spend US$25 more than the value of the card, the amount of money left on gift cards that consumers will never spend will reach US$1.7 billion, which, although 30 per cent lower than in 2011, is still a significant amount.

CEB TowerGroup’s figures suggest that by 2015 the gift card market in the US will be worth US$130 billion, with electronic gifting growing in popularity, with sales expected to hit US$16 billion. — AFP RELAXNEWS