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Facebook's new multiretailer gift card could be the start of something big. Beginning Thursday, Facebook users can give their friends gifts to Jamba Juice, Olive Garden, Sephora and Target using a card that never expires.
However, unlike a Visa gift card that can be used anywhere the card is accepted, balances for each retailer remain separate on the Facebook Card, meaning you can't use your Jamba Juice balance for a lipstick at Sephora, but you only have to carry the single gift card.
The card is an extension of Facebook Gifts, a service it rolled out several months ago, that lets users choose from Facebook's gift catalog and send a real gift to a friend without having to know the friend's mailing address. (Recipients provide their address to Facebook when they get a gift notification.)
With the new card, instead of a gift, recipients receive a Facebook card in the mail preloaded with the gift amount.
From then on, gifts are electronically added to the card, which can be used at stores, Facebook said in its announcement.
The four retailers participating in the unified gift program were all part of Facebook's existing Gifts service. Notably, Gifts participants Starbucks and iTunes are not yet included, and Facebook is not saying if and when they will be or what other partners may join.
Ready to send a gift? Go to a friend's profile page and find the gift box in the field where you would type a new post. Click on the gift box and then choose "See more gifts" to open the Facebook store. From the left-hand list of gift types, select "Gift Cards & Digital."
Participating stores will be labeled "Facebook Card." Minimum amounts vary. For instance, Jamba Juice starts at $5 and Olive Garden at $25. All but Jamba Juice have a maximum limit of $100. (The smoothie shop tops out at $50.)
After making your selection, you'll choose an e-card that will be sent to your friend, add credit card information and click the Buy button. As the giver, you'll be notified when the recipient accepts the gift by sending a mailing address to Facebook. By default, your gift will post to your timeline, but you can uncheck that option to keep it private.
You can track your gifts — both those you've received and those you've sent — in the "Gifts" section found in your Settings.
Facebook is not breaking new ground in terms of technology. It seems almost old-fashioned to send plastic cards in the mail when companies such as Starbucks offer an app that holds gift card balances and allows for payment by waving a smartphone near a payment device at the counter. But it's a good first step and a sign of bigger things to come.