First USA Joins Gift Card Movement

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Plastic is catching on as the medium of choice for charge card issuers that now offer gift certificates.

Less than a week after American Express debuted electronic co-branded retail gift cards for Chanel and Tower Records, First USA has announced the availability of a similar prepaid Visa gift card good wherever Visa is accepted.

Both use the magnetic stripe technology common to existing card readers. First USA, Wilmington, DE, has applied for a patent for its product. American Express, New York, estimates the revenue potential for electronic gift card products at $13 billion.

First USA rolled out the gift card Nov. 16 as a value-added service exclusively to its cardholders. Gift cards can be purchased in a choice of 11 designs, including four holiday themes, in amounts ranging from $50 up to the cardholder's available credit limit.

The prepaid cards can be imprinted with a personal greeting and sent directly to the recipient. First USA assesses a service fee of $5 for amounts up to $200. Orders can only be placed by telephone, and payment must be made with a First USA card. The cards are functional for six months with any remaining balance being refunded to the recipient.

The American Express gift cards are good only at the sponsor's retail locations but can be purchased with most major forms of payment. Additional value can be added through a sponsor's card reader at any time.

First USA gift cards are being marketed to cardholders with a statement insert and promotion on the company Web site, Web ordering is currently not available.

Although the cards were introduced to coincide with the holiday gift giving season, First USA has tested seven other designs related to occasions such as birthdays, weddings and anniversaries and will offer them year-round.

"The appeal of this product today is that it represents a universal gift certificate and an easy way to do gift giving," said First USA spokesman David Webster.

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