Gift card popularity has skyrocketed over the past few years, and the latest proof is in a new holiday survey from the National Retail Federation.

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This holiday season, NRF said, total spending on gift cards will top $31 billion. That number has jumped by 83 percent since consumers' gift card intentions were first tracked in 2003.

"The average person celebrating the holidays this season will spend more than $170 on gift cards," said Kathy Grannis, NRF spokesperson. "There's clearly a great demand for gift cards."

For the eighth year in a row, an October NRF survey ranked gift cards as the No. 1 requested gift item, with more than 60 percent of shoppers making the cards their primary pick.

Grannis suggested the stigma surrounding gift cards is gone; they're no longer considered an impersonal, lazy gesture.

"We are finding that gift cards have become the perfect practical gift," she said, noting some stores have allowed their cards to be sent along with a picture or audio recording.

Most shoppers in the survey said they're planning to buy gift cards so the recipient can select their own gift. One-quarter cited convenience as the main reason, and about 4 percent said gift cards make it easier to stick to their holiday budgets.

The spending survey polled more than 6,500 consumers in the beginning of November.