According to a recent NRF consumer survey, gift cards will be one of the most popular gifts this holiday season. Shoppers need to be smart when buying gift cards, understanding there are important differences between gift cards purchased in the store and those that come from credit card companies and banks. Retailers are also adding a variety of features to make gift cards more convenient and fun. Below are some tips and important facts about gift cards that all consumers should know while shopping for friends and loved ones this holiday season.
1. While 92 percent of the nation’s top retailers have no expiration dates or dormancy fees associated with gift cards, NRF still recommends that consumers understand individual retailers' policies before purchasing gift cards.
2. NRF encourages consumers to shop smart for gift cards. To ensure that a recipient receives the card’s full value, shoppers should only buy gift cards from reputable retailers (not online auction sites). Gift cards sold through online auction sites are more likely to be counterfeit or obtained through fraudulent means. Additionally, consumers should keep their original receipt with the value of the card they purchased in case there are any problems with the card when it is redeemed.
3. Consumers should be aware that there are big differences between store-issued and bank-issued gift cards. While 92% of the leading retailers have no fees associated with gift cards, card issuers such as VISA and MasterCard are more likely to expire and tack on annoying activation, maintenance, inactivity, and transaction fees. In fact some bank-issued gift cards even charge a fee for simply checking the balance.
4. Retailers do not count a gift card as a sale when it is purchased—instead, they wait until the gift card is redeemed and merchandise is exchanged. As a result, some of the billions of dollars spent on gift cards this holiday may not show up in "holiday" sales, but instead as sales in January or February, when the gift card is redeemed. Retailers are enticing consumers to redeem their gift cards sooner by having special sales and bringing in new merchandise in January to give consumers more of a selection.
5. Spend your gift card before the government takes the money away! While the rules may not kick in for a couple of years, many states have laws which allow the state to collect "abandoned property," which means that if personal property goes unclaimed for a certain period of time, the state has the right to take it into the state treasury. Like bank accounts and other personal property, gift cards that go unused or unredeemed for more than a few years are often treated as "abandoned" property by states. Where these laws apply, sometimes in as little as 2-3 years, retailers are required to turn over unused gift card dollars to state governments under the guise of returning the “abandoned” money to the gift card purchaser. In fact, states make millions of dollars a year from these clauses. Consumers are encouraged to spend their gift cards within the first year of purchase so that they—not the state where the gift card holder lives—receive the full value.
6. Due to improved technology, some retailers are able to reissue a lost gift card if consumers have kept the original purchase receipt. Some retailers also encourage gift card recipients to register their card through the store's website, which enables them to check their balance online and receive a new card if they lose or misplace the original card.
7. Retailers are adding new features to gift cards, making them more personalized for the recipient. Many retailers are allowing consumers to design their own gift cards, adding personal messages and photos.
8. Another convenience factor is that many stores are able to carry gift cards at their check-out counters because today's gift cards are not active until scanned. Also, many retailers like grocery stores and drug stores carry a variety of different gift cards at their registers--for movie theaters, coffee shops, and clothing stores
9. Most of today's gift cards differ from traditional gift certificates because they are "stored value" cards. When a consumer spends $25 from a $50 gift card, the card automatically updates the balance. This is more efficient than the retailer reissuing another gift certificate to the consumer for the balance.
10. Save yourself the guesswork and buy gift cards, especially for babysitters, newspaper carriers, doormen, teachers and other recipients of smaller-value gifts. Gift cards are a great way to let gift recipients choose what they want and it’s an easy way to stick to a budget.
The National Retail Federation will issue its annual gift card holiday survey on Tuesday, November 13. For more information about the 2007 holiday season, please visit NRF’s holiday headquarters at www.nrf.com/holidayhq