Beware These 7 Holiday Ripoffs

Before you finish your holiday shopping, you may want to take a look at this list compiled by Forbes of 7 popular items that get marked up way too much. Among the worst: greeting cards, which have a markup of up to 200% above cost.

The overpriced items on the list aren’t exclusively holiday goods, but they include some of the more popular gift items, such as jewelry and designer clothes. And then there’s this one:

Are you buying that teacher, co-worker or friend a coffee shop gift card for Christmas? You may want to think again: the markup on coffee is an average 300%, making that gift card a bad value for the money. Instead of resorting to the old standby gift card, think of giving that coffee lover a bag of gourmet coffee and a mug, a far more personal gift at a lower cost and better value.

Forbes suggests that you treat Christmas as “a great time to take a stand as a consumer, and refuse to pay for these overpriced items. What to give instead? You could always go for cash, along with a Consumerist Anti-Gift Card.

7 Holiday Items With The Biggest Markups [Forbes]


Edit Your Comment

  1. jennleighh says:

    I’ll probably out myself as a lazy person, but when someone gives me a pound of coffee and a mug they give me something I have to do. A SBux gift card is a special treat I can tuck away for a really bad day.

    That said, I’m grateful for anything, ever. :-)

    • Corinthos says:

      Same here I think I have coffee from last year sitting in a mug.

    • HannahK says:


    • icruise says:

      I couldn’t agree more. Who cares if cafe coffee is overpriced? The whole point is that you’re giving them the opportunity to enjoy a little treat.

      • makreljohnson says:

        Dunno if I would call SBux Coffee a ‘treat’.

        If you’ve made yourself known to enjoy good coffee enough to warrant a gift of a gourmet pound and a mug, you’re likely the type who would prefer to brew it yourself and frown at the green machine of coffee…

    • Charmander says:

      That’s exactly how I feel!

    • bcsus83 says:

      My thoughts exactly. I’d much rather have a gift card or certificate to my favorite coffee shop than ground coffee in a mug, and I think most people would agree. The whole idea of a gift is to ‘spoil’ someone a bit….and somehow, a cup of coffee out of their own coffee pot at home is hardly an indulgence.

    • shthar says:

      that is lazy

  2. Shadowfire says:

    The same markup “ripoff” can be said for most things that “I can make at home.” Doesn’t make it a bad gift.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      While I agree, I’m a pragmatic person. And few gifts you make for someone are something you really need and can use routinely. Hand-made cards are wonderful, but they get thrown away.

    • runswithscissors says:

      I make my own awful gifts at home.

    • There's room to move as a fry cook says:

      We are splurging tonight honey. You can order anything you want on the menu board.

  3. downtpwn says:

    What a goofy, illogical Forbes article. If an item is of value, people will buy it for that price. If it’s not, competition will drive the price down. What does it matter what % it is marked up over wholesale? The market is efficient in pricing low cost commodities.

    Buy a video game console or phone as a gift instead of brand name clothes? wtf?

    If you want to speak to the value of clothes, maybe a better example would be the value in using a Hong Kong tailor who comes into town vs. brand name off the rack suits. I doubt if I wanted a shirt that I would be happier with a PS3.

  4. Grabraham says:

    Not a bad gift if it is thoughtful. If I know someone enjoys Dunkin Donuts coffee and shops there often the giftcard is not really a bad value… they are not makin it at home for a reason and is probably not the lack of a supply of ground coffee.

  5. Wireless Joe says:

    These are not holiday ripoffs (except maybe greeting cards); I was expecting a story on items that get marked up for the holidays. These are every day ripoffs.

  6. humphrmi says:

    I don’t follow this logic:

    “Are you buying that teacher, co-worker or friend a coffee shop gift card for Christmas? You may want to think again: the markup on coffee is an average 300%”

    So if a teacher or co-worker or friend loves going to Starbucks (say), how does *not* buying them a gift card save them any money? Should I instead lecture them about the markup?

    • Ebriosa says:

      That struck me as odd, too.

      I’m a big cheapskate myself, but I love getting giftcards to Sturbucks or some other overpriced coffee/tea place because it’s something I won’t do for myself. I appreciate the luxury of it all the more because I know it’s marked up.

    • Outrun1986 says:

      If I am buying a $20 Starbucks card for someone who I know really, really likes Starbucks then how is that a bad use of my money? The person would obviously really like my gift. Should I go spend $20 at Walmart on cheap coffee that they probably wouldn’t even be able to use just because I am getting more for my money?? Its the same $20 of my money spent regardless.

      • Jon Parker says:

        If you think Wal-Mart sells anything resembling gourmet coffee, you don’t know enough about coffee to be gifting it.

        • OutPastPluto says:

          For the most part, as long as the beans are intact it really doesn’t matter what pretentious gourmet nonsense the product claims to aspire to.

  7. Scoobatz says:

    Happy Holidays [my son’s teacher]! I know you love your morning coffee runs to Starbucks, but buying you a gift card to this establishment would not be a wise financial decision on my part.

    Instead, please enjoy a bag of coffee beans I bought for you at the grocery store and serve it up in this coffee mug I hand-made for you out of clay. You’re welcome.

    • jennleighh says:

      This cracks me up. I’m a teacher and I usually rack up quite a few SBux cards, which gets me through the cold winter. Really really. And we’re no longer allowed to have coffee pots, microwaves, or anything electronic in our classrooms that might drain power, so coffee brewed elsewhere is greatly appreciated. Although I am tickled each year by handmade doodads and endless apple paperweights.

      (Don’t get me wrong–I adore my job, and my kids. But must every teacher gift have an apple on it? I mean, iPod would be the exception. . .hahahahaha.)

      • haggis for the soul says:

        This is a great point. Not everyone’s workplace is set up to allow them to make their own.

      • Hotscot says:

        Do you get to use a computer or the lights?

        • jennleighh says:

          Yes, but we’re on Energy Management and the computers shut off randomly throughout the day. It’s great to teach a room of seniors all period, then go over to the computer for the Mandatory Fun Attendance Upload and discover that your workstation has, again, shut down.

          Just the cherry on my cupcake of crap.

          But building woes notwithstanding, I have the best job on the planet and teach really nice kids. Their parents, however, can hover like Black Hawk helicopters on reconnaissance and that can be annoying.

    • RandomHookup says:

      Didn’t you grow the coffee beans in your own backyard?

  8. lettucefactory says:

    Have to disagree on this one.

    I like getting and giving gifts that are treats. I do brew my own coffee at home. But I also love Starbucks. A gift card makes me feel that rare and wonderful joy…I can purchase a $4 latte without any guilt or harm to my budget at all! WOO! Using a gift card is the one time I don’t have to feel bad about the markup.

    I like giving that same happy rush to other people.

  9. sirwired says:

    I just thought I would point out here that 300% of the ingredient cost is the standard price charged for prepared food of any kind. This applies to everything from fast food all the way up to snooty restaurants. Obviously there are exceptions, and any menu has items with especially large or small items, but there is no reason to pick on coffee shops here.

    • Alvis says:

      Then why were BK franchises suing over $1 menu items forcing them to take a loss?

    • AnthonyC says:

      Very true, but nowhere does it say that “cost” means “ingredient cost.” In fact, I would be *very* surprised if the difference in price between “coffee+water+electricity to boil said water+milk+sugar” and “what the cashier tells me to pay” were only 300%.

    • gourmetcoffee says:

      Just wanted to point out that as a coffee company, SB and the rest of the gang make an obscene mark up,much greater than the 300% that the article says. SB, as an average, pays $1.60 per pound of coffee, and when they use it as an ingredient in their coffee shops, after the heavy blending, it generates $138 of income.

      That is a bit much!

  10. Antrack13 says:

    I think the markup is exactly what makes a coffee gift card a great gift. It’s something you give someone so they can indulge themselves a little where they might not otherwise. When your kid’s teacher is having a bad day, he or she can run to Starbuck’s for some frothy concoction instead of settling for teacher’s lounge sludge.

    I am definitely of the mindset that gifts should be something the giftee would not or could not have bought himself.

    • Parsnip says:

      Very much this. I really like stopping into a Starbucks on a freezing cold day and when I’m out and about and grabbing a nice, hot drink to warm me up. I don’t do it very often because those $4.00 coffees add up, but last Christmas, my boyfriend’s mom gave me a Starbucks gift card, and I liked not feeling guilty about spending that money since I wasn’t actually spending it.

      Likewise, my parents think the Wii is the coolest thing ever, and love playing Wii Sports at their friends’ homes. But it’s something they would never, ever buy themselves. They are frugal people, and they just don’t spend money on things they WANT… only on what they need, plus their annual vacation. This year for Christmas, I got them one. The point is getting someone a gift they’d never buy themselves, in my opinion.

  11. ironflange says:

    Oh dear God, don’t ever give a mug as a gift, especially a Christmas one. My wife’s a teacher, and she gets so damn many mugs every Xmas that we have to throw them away. Coffee’s OK, because she doesn’t drink it so I get to enjoy it.

    • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

      When I was a kid, Mom always got nice hand lotions for my teachers … of course, this was in the days of chalkboards, and my teachers’ hands were always dry from chalkdust.

  12. richcreamerybutter says:

    Granted, they are correct about restaurant wine markup, but ordering a glass of something with the meal is not unreasonable. Keep in mind, I’m also a huge advocate of flasks and “pre-gaming,” though I bet Forbes would never deign to suggest these supplemental solutions.

    • Kate says:

      It’s also cheaper to purchase your own steak and potatos and eat them at home, but it’s not as much fun to go to a restaurant and not eat dinner.

      • Outrun1986 says:

        You also have to purchase the meat, and if you don’t have the proper cookware and no knowledge of how to cook steak this could become very complicated and expensive and to to mention a disaster. You might just be better off paying a restaurant to do it right, over here steak dinner’s aren’t that expensive. The purpose of going out to eat is usually to alleviate the stress and work of having to cook a meal. Most people who cook themselves are usually really appreciative of a restaurant gift card because it allows them a chance to breathe for once without having to cook.

  13. Alvis says:

    “Among the worst: greeting cards, which have a markup of up to 200% above cost.”

    That’s one of the LOWEST markups from the article.

    Now I see why the author didn’t put his name on this post.

  14. framitz says:

    I will still purchase pre-cut fruit medleys. If I purchase and cut it up my self it takes my time and I end up wasting more due to spoilage because it’s too much fruit.


  15. outis says:

    Seriously Cratchit, how much coal do you really need?
    Gift cards are supposed to be so you can treat yourself a little. While I might be better off in the long run if someone covers my phone bill for the month, I’d rather they took me out to dinner or gave me a gift card for somewhere/something I wouldn’t normally splurge.
    Now if only my co-workers would exchange something OTHER than Starbucks gift cards….

  16. xxmichaelxx says:

    You mean that $3 only cost $1 to make?! Shocking! And I’ve bought cards from these greedy bastards for years!

    Never again, I say. Never again.

  17. Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

    We buy greeting cards, gift wrap, the post-Christmas sales for the following Christmas. We usually save 80-90%. Now, if there was only some way to preserve Valentine’s Day chocolates bought on February 15th.

    • Outrun1986 says:

      We have been doing this for as long as I can remember, probably since I was really, really little way before frugality became the “in” thing like it is now. I pay around 10 cents a Christmas card or less. I have enough wrapping paper for at least the next 3 Xmas’s. People aren’t gonna know that you are sending them last year’s Xmas cards if they don’t have the year on them.

      • Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

        “People aren’t gonna know that you are sending them last year’s Xmas cards if they don’t have the year on them.”

        Don’t be giving Hallmark any ideas! I can see it now: next year all their Christmas cards will have something “2011” worked into them, so come Boxing Day (when you score these cards for 80% off), they’re worthless, unless you want to be tacky and turn that last “1” into a “2.” Then again, I’m sure retailers would retaliate and say “no, we’re not buying them, unless we can take them on consignment.” Then again, Hallmark does own a chain of stores, don’t they?

        • mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

          Trust me, they already have the idea. I don’t know how widely applied it is to gift wrap. However, there are plenty of ornaments, teddy bears and other plush items, etc which have “2010” painted/embroidered upon them.

          Never mind how it makes the item virtually worthless to buy after the holiday on clearance, but even paying full price now, I doubt your recipient will have glorious memories about your thoughtful gift of a mass produced “Christmas 2010” ornament in 2013, and it may not ever make it onto their tree in the first place, since their tree was already decorated when they opened it. –In that sense, “2010” giftwrap would be less pointless, but every bit as wasteful.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      I get wrap at flea markets for even cheaper. There’s TONS of Christmas decorations, wrap, bows, etc. that people buy cheap and then resell and they barely mark it up. Or they toss wrap they bought and never used in their booths just to get rid of it. If you look carefully you can find a lot of really good stuff.

  18. TopcatF14B says:

    Stop buying presents for people… there, problem solved.

    • Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

      I take it you watch A Christmas Carol backwards, so it has a happy ending for you.

  19. Gulliver says:

    This is just stupid. How about this, what is the markup on a hair cut? It costs absolutely NOTHING , other than the labor. So I guess when I bought my mom a spa package with a hair, facial and body massage I got totally ripped off. I am a horrible consumer. The fact she loved the gift and was happy is not important. I guess I should have bought her an electric massager, some make up and some scissors and told her I can save some money of you would just do it yourself.
    I also love how people seem to think because a restaurant will mark something up 300 per cent that restaurants must make a fortune. I suggest you look up with that average PROFIT for a restaurant is in the US, and you will realize it is not much.

  20. AnonymousCommenter says:

    I believe that there is a difference between “making a stand as a consumer” and being a tightwad. Things like refusing to order wine in a restaurant simply because they have have a high markup is letting the love of money interfere with the enjoyment of life, friends and company.
    It reminds me of the phrase “He knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing”.

  21. Outrun1986 says:

    A Christmas gift is supposed to be a treat. If your teenage relative REALLY WANTS an Abercrombie shirt, getting a shirt from Walmart will just not do, and its plain mean and unthoughtful to buy them the thing they don’t want just because you are trying to save yourself money especially if you can afford to buy a shirt from Abercrombie for that person.. You don’t want to be thought as the cheap, aunt, cousin, parent or whatever relative do you? If they want the overpriced clothing they are getting it for Xmas, because its Xmas and its supposed to be a treat, its not something that is bought for them every day. No we will not buy them a whole wardrobe, maybe one shirt or one outfit which is totally reasonable. Our job as a gift giver is to get something that the person would like or something from the list, not to be cheap and frugal about it. Its better that we buy the Abercrombie shirt, and not the Walmart shirt because if we bought the Walmart shirt, it would probably end up in the trash and the relative would be bitter at us on Christmas then we have wasted our money and have a bitter relative on our hands.

    If I ask for a Nintendo DS game I do not want them going out and buying me a used, crappy original Game Boy game just because hey I am saving money and being frugal and it cost less.

    This is a horrible article, when I am buying a gift for someone I am thinking of the person, not how much the retailer is marking up an item. Don’t be a Scrooge people and don’t be overly cheap especially if you can afford the good gift. While I wouldn’t spend money on a designer shirt for myself, that might be something someone else would really enjoy. I am sure the retail stores love my way of thinking, but disappointing a relative would be worse than buying marked up gifts at the retailer.

  22. JohnJ says:

    Forbes: “send a free e-card”

    How thoughtful – NOT.

  23. Intheknow says:

    Christmas cards get me every year. Today I actually spent $18 for 4 cards for my parents and 3 daughters. I just can’t believe $5 for one lousy card – okay it is really pretty, but STILL.

  24. gfonner says:

    My parents (both teachers for over 20+ years) would MUCH rather get a sbux gift card.

    I think they’ve accumulated approximately 1000000000 mugs over the years (and given away 90% of them).

  25. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    What a bizarre list from FORBES – “The Capitalist Tool” – their target market is business leaders and wanabees. Don’t by brand name clothing, don’t buy Starbucks, don’t buy jewelry, and drink water not wine at restaurants. It’s Nicholas Cage in Family Man!

  26. gman863 says:

    The moral here is buy your holiday cards,wrap, etc. the week after at 50-75% off and store them ’til next year.

    Ditto for clothing. If your kid is dying for a $100 shirt at Macy’s a $50 gift card will pay for it once overpriced items drop like a rock on December 26th.

  27. WhyNotTry says:

    How about compromise and bring your own bottle of wine to the restaurant and pay a corking fee? You get wine at a reasonable price and the restaurant still gets to make some money off of you.

  28. evilbunnytoo says:

    why do blogs and websites keep recommending that you send your friends ecards to be green – I never click on them, for all I know that random email link waiting to send me spam or better yet, give my computer a virus. Plus, most of those places make you create a profile, which I won’t do.

  29. hegemonyhog says:

    People have limited texting plans? Is this 2005?

  30. wildcardjack says:

    I don’t think $4 for a well produced card is a rip-off. You aren’t buying a banana, you are buying a product of someone’s intellectual efforts.

    Stop being a cheapskate at every turn and maybe you’ll enjoy life a little more.

  31. isileth says:

    Greeting cards are always overpriced.
    In the last few years I bought those prepared by Unicef or other charities.
    They are usually cheaper and have nicer images on them.

  32. DGC says:

    A donation to The Human Fund is always a bargain.

  33. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    Please God. Not another f’n Christmas mug.

  34. mattarse says:

    What a dinner date – I’ll take you for dinner but we’re drinking water.

  35. soj4life says:

    And? These aren’t holiday ripoffs, these are just the ways that these industries stay in business. Do you think that starbucks or hallmark will be able to stay in business selling their products for $0.50 – $1.00? Restaurant’s profits are small, that is why beverages’ prices are more than their cost. I do not know who wrote this article, but their is no substitute in the world to jewelery.

  36. blueman says:

    Note that Forbes never used the word “ripoff,” just products with the biggest markup. Kind of a sensationalist headline from Consumerist.

    When I see the word “ripoff” I think of a scam, of some kind of deception or theft, not simply a product that is heavily marked up and/or overpriced (in someone’s opinion).