Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Gift cards, certificates, et cetera: A Snarky Lecture

I read an article a week or two ago (no link, I don't remember where I read it) that listed the drawbacks to a number of large chain store or online retailer gift cards. Mainly they broke down in two categories: the "service charges" that the retailers begin deducting from the card after a certain period of disuse, which is annoying, and the fact that in just about all cases the cards are not redeemable for cash, which is not.

When I worked for Pizza Hut, it never failed. Ever. We'd sell tons of gift certificates during the Christmas season, and then they'd all get redeemed in January (which is part of the idea: generating sales during a traditionally slow month). But we sold the certificates in $5.00 denominations only, so someone might be given, say, five certificates for a gift totaling $25.00. Fair enough.

But what would inevitably happen was that people would come in, order something very basic -- like a medium pepperoni and two glasses of water, total bill something like $11.00 -- and then fork over all five of their gift certificates, fully expecting to get $14.00 back in change. And these customers would then get angry when I refused to do this. They really thought that they could just cash them in and take the money to the bar next door or wherever. (I once even had a guy come in with five gift certificates and demand to cash them all in without any purchase of any kind; he very bluntly informed me that he hated our company and wanted nothing to do with us and that I was to give him his $25.00 and send him on his way. When I refused, he called the 1-800 complaint number, the operator at which tried to mollify him by awarding him -- you guessed it -- more gift certificates.)

On the off chance that any of my readers engage in this practice, please stop! People give you gift certificates for a certain establishment on the assumption that you will be able to derive some kind of benefit by going there to redeem them for merchandise or food, even if it's an establishment you typically do not frequent, for whatever reason. If they wanted to give you cash, they'd give you cash. And these businesses rely on gift certificate redemption to help soften the blow in moving from the Christmas retail season (incredibly busy) to the January retail season (incredibly not). And if you really feel that strongly -- if you're given a gift certificate to a business you utterly, completely despise -- then find someone who likes that place and regift the certificates to them. That is far more honest than simply walking in, buying something small, and then expecting the store to just hand over the difference from the register.

(And really, if you can't figure out how to use up a $25.00 gift card to Borders or B&N, then you're not just a clod but a doofus too.)

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