What do gift cards do?
In contemporary developed societies, when we need something, we most often use money to buy it. Instead of relying on barter or on relationships with our neighbors, we now use cards or cash. According to Georg Simmel, the sociologist and philosopher, modern money economies dissolve the interdependence of personal relationships and material relationships. Money begins mediating between person and property, acting as a placeholder for value. As a kind of cipher—an “inherently qualityless presence,” to use Simmel’s phrase—it enables people to project onto it a huge array of expected uses. In doing so, it breaks down the time between purchase and consumption as it, for example, allows for consumption to be brought forward in time through credit and enables long-distance ownership.
Considering all the possible uses that a specific amount of money can be used for—possibilities exponentially increased in the modern digitized world—businesses face mounting competition as they encourage individuals to spend it with them. In light of this, I was interested in exploring how companies can create structures which either encourage consumers to earmark certain amounts or how they work curtail the malleability of money. To do so, many companies try to encourage consumers to enter into a lasting purchase relationship with them - to have that money only recognized within the context of a particular relationship.
This would be the end goal of many rewards programs, gift cards, or "points systems" - to lock in external funds into an internal currency which has value in specific stores.
In a way, gift cards are the reverse of credit as they postpone the purchase of an object or thing until a later date. Similarly, rewards programs such as Fred Meyer’s Reward Card encourage consumers to spend within that store to accumulate ‘points’ which can be later converted into savings on future purchases. Through schemes which tie and individual’s purchasing power to specific situations and in specific stores, companies limit on the competition they face. In doing so, they limit the circulation of money and restrict its ability to traverse space and time—both literally and within people’s projective imaginings. No wonder then that of the $130 billion spent on gift cards in the US, $1 billion went unused in the US in 2015. 
 Simmel, Georg. “Money in Modern Cultures”. Theory, Culture & Society. 8 (1991): 17 – 31. SAGE. Web. 23 Jan. 2017. P. 18.