Sunday, November 25, 2007
In your quest to avoid gifts that become clutter, you might decide that gift cards and gift certificates are the perfect answer.
But consider this: "a survey of 1,003 adults conducted in October by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that 27 percent of those who received gift cards during the 2006 holiday season had not used one or more of them nearly a year later." Why? They lost them, forgot about them, let them expire - or they simply didn't have time to shop, or didn't find anything they wanted to buy.
Here are some ways to become a better shopper for gift cards/certificates.
1. Gift cards/certificates still require that you think about what would please the person getting the gift. Some things to consider:
- Is the store one they would like to patronize? For example, most of my friends know I'm a big fan of independent bookstores, so a gift cards for Barnes & Noble wouldn't be a good gift for me - but an ABA gift card (which I can use at over 380 independent bookstores) would work well. (Post updated December 2008 for new ABA gift cards.)
- Will buying from the store add to someone's clutter? You may want to consider a gift card for services (a facial or a massage, for example) or for a place selling consumables (food, wine, soaps, etc.).
- Is the store nearby? If not, will the cards be accepted on-line and is the person comfortable with on-line shopping?
2. Make sure you understand any fees and expiration dates - and make sure the person getting the card understands them, too.
- Read the fine print or the terms and conditions on the vendor's web site.
- Also, understand your legal protections. In some states, such as California, fees and expiration dates are mostly illegal, but there are exceptions; for example, cards that can be used with multiple sellers (such as cards from a mall and cards issued by banks) are exempt from the law. Other states have other laws.
- Consumer Reports: Avoid gift card pitfalls
- Consumerist: Don't let your gift card scam you
- Gift Card Buy Back and The Gift Card Trader - in case someone gives you a card you don't want