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What Is A Gift Certificate (Compared To A Gift Card)

What Is A Gift Certificate (Compared To A Gift Card)

Many brick-and-mortar store owners used to hand out gift certificates as a way to promote their business. But things have changed with the rise of gift cards in online shopping, leaving many scratching their heads about what sets these two apart. So, what is a gift certificate? And what is a gift card?

Essentially, both of these gift options aim to achieve the same goal. But the real difference between them often boils down to how flexible the issuer is and the specific rules and regulations that tag along.

In this article, we’ll break down these important distinctions. Since gift cards are more commonly used in online shopping, we’ll also guide you through three simple steps to set up a gift card in WooCommerce. So, let’s dive deeper into it!

Introduction To Gift Certificates And Gift Cards

Gift certificates had a historical journey dating back to the 1930s. However, during that time, major department stores exclusively reserved them for a chosen few.

In the 1970s, gift certificates truly took center stage as a marketing strategy.

McDonald’s played a pivotal role in this shift by launching a Christmas gift certificate program. This move sparked enthusiasm among other retailers, restaurants, and shops, who quickly embraced the trend and began offering gift certificates to the general public.

McDonald's gift certificate in the 1980s
McDonald’s gift certificate in the 1980s (click to zoom)

After realizing the popularity and appeal of gift certificates, Neiman Marcus, the fancy department store, devised a brilliant idea. They decided to create something even better: gift cards.

These cards were made of sturdy plastic to prevent easy tearing or wear and tear, and they were far simpler to use than the old-fashioned paper certificates.

This ingenious invention initiated a significant trend. Other renowned brands, such as Starbucks, joined the gift card craze. In fact, Starbucks was the first to introduce reloadable gift cards in 2001:

Starbucks gift cards
Sample Starbucks gift cards (click to zoom)

This is when the entire gift card phenomenon took off. According to MarketWatch, between 2007 and 2014, gift card sales surged from $80 billion to a staggering $124 billion. That’s a substantial number of people giving and receiving these convenient little plastic presents!

Gift Certificates vs. Gift Cards (Comparison)

If you’re still not crystal clear, think of gift cards as the modern, upgraded version of gift certificates.

They share the same marketing goal, but they come in different shapes and sizes with specific terms and conditions. To sum it up, here are the key differences to help you grasp it better:

1. Physical Form

Traditionally, gift certificates were those tangible paper documents that you could hold in your hands. But, let’s face it, they were prone to tearing and getting worn out over time. Thanks to technology, though, gift certificates can now go paperless and are often zipped into your inbox via email.

Sample gift certificate templates
Sample gift certificate templates (click to zoom)

Gift cards, on the other hand, resemble credit or debit cards in size.

You’ve probably seen them; they might have a magnetic stripe or a barcode that holds the value of the gift. What’s interesting is that today, they can also exist in digital form or go completely paperless. But they still keep that convenient credit card size that fits neatly in your wallet.

2. Value

Another important distinction lies in the way these two work – their value.

Think of gift certificates as more like vouchers for a specific item or service. So, instead of saying “$20,” it might say something like “Free Mani-Pedi” or “Unlimited Drinks For 1 Hour”:

Gift certificate from All Smiles Beauty Bar
Gift certificate from All Smiles Beauty Bar click to zoom

Now, on the flip side, gift cards are like having a set amount of cash in your pocket. Imagine getting an Amazon gift card for $100 – you know you’ve got a Benjamin to spend as you please:

Amazon 0 gift cards
Amazon $100 gift cards (click to zoom)

3. Redemption Process

And here’s another aspect where they set themselves apart – the way your customers use them.

With gift certificates, there’s more flexibility in how and where you can redeem them. Take, for instance, a Free Massage gift certificate – you can use it for any kind of massage at the spa, giving you multiple of ways to redeem the voucher.

When it comes to gift cards, however, they usually tie you to a specific store or business. You can only use that Target gift card at Target, for example:

Target eGift card
Target eGift card (click to zoom)

As an e-commerce store owner, this is where gift cards can really shine compared to certificates. You have more control over how they’re used, and that can be a big boost for your sales. You can set the terms and conditions to work in your favor.

3 Steps To Sell Gift Cards In WooCommerce

As we mentioned earlier, if you’re running a WooCommerce store and want to offer gift cards, you’ll need a little help from a third-party plugin to make it all work seamlessly. And our top recommendation for this job is the Advanced Gift Cards plugin.

Advanced Gift Cards
Advanced Gift Cards

This plugin not only makes selling digital gift cards doable in just minutes, but it also gives you the creative freedom to choose designs and even upload your own if you like. Plus, you can send these digital gift cards straight to your customers and let them use them as store credit!

In this tutorial, we’ll guide you through the process in 3 simple steps:

1. Create a new WooCommerce product.

To get started with selling Advanced Gift Cards, the first step is to create a new product in WooCommerce. Select the “Advanced Gift Card” type by navigating to Products > Add New, and then choose “Advanced Gift Cards” from the product data options:

Select "Advanced Gift Card" from the product data options
Select “Advanced Gift Card” from the product data options (click to zoom)

From here, you’ll be presented with a range of configuration choices. These options let you set the regular price and any sale prices for the gift card.

Then, simply input the required information, and you’re all set to move on to the next step.

2. Set up the gift card data.

Once you’ve configured the general settings, you’ll notice a section labeled “Gift Card” just below. In this section, you can specify the value of the gift card and whether it can be sent to a friend:

Specify gift card value
Specify gift card value (click to zoom)

What’s even more nifty is the option to enable customers to set a custom delivery date:

Enable "Allow customers to set a custom delivery date" feature
Then, enable “Allow customers to set a custom delivery date” feature (click to zoom)

When you opt to active the feature, a delivery date field will appear in the recipient section. This way, your customers can choose to send the gift card on a future date if they wish.

3. Select a gift card design.

Once you’ve taken care of all the technical stuff, it’s time for the fun part – designing your gift cards!

With Advanced Gift Cards, you’ve got three fantastic built-in designs to choose from:

Built-in Advanced Gift Cards designs
Built-in Advanced Gift Cards designs (click to zoom)

You also have an additional option of 85+ designs available as an add-on to your store. These designs are specially crafted for various occasions like Black Friday, Christmas, Mother’s Day, and more:

Additional designs provided by Advanced Gift Cards
Additional designs provided by Advanced Gift Cards (click to zoom)

If you don’t spot a design that perfectly matches your brand or objective, you can go ahead and upload your very own custom gift card background. Just click the “Select image” button in the Gift Card Design section, upload your preferred background, and voila!

Upload your own design
Finally, upload your own design (click to zoom)

Just remember, for the best results, aim for image dimensions of 500px x 300px and use .png, .jpg, or .gif formats. Then, once you’ve got the design squared away, simply hit the “Publish” button.


Gift certificates and gift cards are basically cut from the same cloth. It’s no wonder many store owners sometimes mix them up. To make things clearer, we’ve distilled the distinction into three main points:

  1. Physical Form
  2. Value
  3. Redemption Process

In essence, gift cards are a better fit for WooCommerce. If you’re eager to start selling them on your online store, we’ve put together three easy ways to help you do just that, all with the help of the Advanced Gift Cards plugin:

  1. Create a new WooCommerce product.
  2. Set up the gift card data.
  3. Select a gift card design.

Do you have any questions about this article? Let us know in the comments!

author avatar
Belle Berber Writer, Content Manager

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