I hate to sound so Scrooge-like just before the big day but… I really don’t want a gift card this Christmas. Aren’t they just cash with strings and a deadline?
It may be more convenient, it may feel nicer, but your loved one could be left clutching a worthless bit of plastic if the shop goes bust or the gift card expires before they have the chance to use it.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m fully appreciative of any presents I’m lucky enough to receive, but the risk of a shop going bust isn’t as remote as it might once have seemed.
Just think of the once-familiar names that have disappeared over the years; Dixons, Maplin, Toys R Us, BHS, Woolworths and, of course, Thomas Cook.
As our December magazine arrived with members, Mothercare’s 79 UK stores became the latest to be under threat.
Don’t forget the small print
Perhaps an even bigger risk to your well-intentioned gift is the small print on the back of the card.
Last Christmas, as a known lover of the great outdoors, I was given a voucher for a luxury camping trip.
A lovely gift, you might think, but there was a catch. The campsite was in a particularly remote part of the Scottish Highlands and the voucher needed to be redeemed within three months.
Needless to say it went unspent. On the plus side, I avoided hypothermia, but on the downside I’ve been avoiding questions about that ‘lovely trip to the Cairngorms” all year.
The UK Gift Card and Voucher Association (UKGCVA) recently estimated that as many as 98.6% of vouchers are spent within a year, but in a £6 billion industry, that could still mean millions of pounds going unspent.
Research published five years ago by the UKGCVA found that as much as £300 million wasbeing lost in unspent and expired gift cards each year. That’s almost £6 million lost every week.
It’s not surprising. We’ve found that some gift cards expired within weeks of purchase.
Should we change the gift card rules?
There could be a solution. In the US, gift cards have a minimum expiry period of five years.
This was brought in to protect consumers and the amount lost to unspent gift vouchers is half per person than in the UK.
Our research has found that most people say they bought a gift card for someone because they didn’t know what to buy for them.
We’ve probably all faced that dilemma at some point, but unless we can be sure they will spend it, maybe we should just hand over the money instead.
Will you be buying a last-minute gift card for someone this year? Is it just not the same if you give cash as a gift?