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Joel Waldfogel 300

Carlson School of Management professor Joel Waldfogel estimates that Americans don't redeem $8 billion worth of gift cards each year.

U of M expert warns traditional holiday shopping leads to economic waste

December 8, 2010

The holidays are fast approaching, with many consumers still on the hunt for gifts. A University of Minnesota expert who has a word of caution for harried shoppers is:  

Joel Waldfogel, Frederick R. Kappel Chair in Applied Economics, University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management

Based on years of research, Waldfogel concludes Americans will vaporize $14 billion worth of value this holiday season by purchasing gifts that have less value to their recipient than they cost. He says increasing awareness of this problem has propelled spending on gift cards, which will reach $80 billion this year. While purchasing a gift card for Aunt Sally may be better than buying her perfume, gift cards are not without their own pitfalls, as 10 percent of card balances will never be redeemed.

To view or embed a video of Waldfogel discussing the waste of traditional holiday shopping, visit

Waldfogel has some simple advice to reduce the $8 billion annually that goes unused and to help consumers get the most from their cards. He also has tips on purchasing cards that can increase the likelihood they’ll return the highest value and get used.

Waldfogel is the author of “Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays” (Princeton University Press, 2009), has written on economics for and his research has been featured in national and international media, including CNN, BBC, Financial Times, The Economist, Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

To interview Waldfogel, contact Steve Rudolph at (612) 624-8770 or; or Preston Smith at (612) 625-0552 or

Expert Alert is a service provided by the University News Service. Delivered regularly, Expert Alert is designed to connect university experts to today's breaking news and current events. For an archive and other useful media services, visit Views expressed by experts do not represent the views of the University of Minnesota.

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Video: Traditional holiday shopping leads to economic waste

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Joel Waldfogel's faculty profile