Now that Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday are all in our collective rear-view mirrors, welcome to America’s newest shopping holiday — and this one may be the most consumer-friendly of the bunch.
This Saturday will mark the first-ever National Use Your Gift Card Day, a nudge to consumers to “Celebrate the Present” they may have received over the holidays rather than allowing their gift cards to potentially diminish in value and eventually expire. An estimated $1 billion in gift cards go unused each year
The unspent dollars are called breakage. Breakage is when a gift card has reached its 5 year expiration date and all of the funds on the card have not been redeemed by the gift cardholder. In some cases, it may be the full amount of the card.
As most gift cards do not require personal information to purchase, such as name, address, email, etc., the retailer does not know who to return the unused funds back to. Therefore the remaining dollars on the card are split between the retailer/issuer/distributor and state governments that have unclaimed property or escheatment laws. This number reflects approximately 1- 4% of total gift card sales.
“Gift cards have never had their own day,” Tracy Tilson, founder of National Use Your Gift Card Day and of its web site, UseYourGiftCard.com. The founder of Tilson PR public-relations firm in south Florida registered the web site and trademarked the name after finding three expired gift cards stashed away in her wallet.
The National Retail Federation estimated that consumers planned to purchase three or four gift cards with an average credit of $47, for a total of $27.5 billion during the just-completed holiday season. Tilson said her UseYourGiftCard.com web site will help remind consumers to use their gift cards or to consider donating them before they end up in the bottom of drawers and the back of wallets.
“We all do it,” Tilson said in a release “We receive gift cards that were at the top of our wish lists for the holidays with every intention to use them, and then they’re forgotten. National Use Your Gift Card Day is a reminder for consumers to use their gift cards so not a single dollar goes unspent.”
UseYourGiftCard.com has been recognized by the 2020 edition of Chase’s Calendar of Events as well as the Registrar at National Day Calendar proclaiming National Use Your Gift Card Day to be observed on the third Saturday in January, annually.The effort is partnering with merchants and restaurants to help remind their customers.
“They see it as potentially another shopping holiday,” Tilson said. Surveys show that consumers usually spend over and above the value of a gift card when they go shopping with card in hand. Plus, Tilson said, “It’s a great way to build brand loyalty.”
Some retailers are going a step further, creating special incentives around the new Use Your Gift Card holiday. “rue 21,” which has five locations throughout the Miami Valley, is offering 15 percent off purchases made with a gift card from Jan. 18-26. Fellow clothing retailer Life Is Good is offering 10 percent off of purchases made with a gift card.
This is why the “Use Your Gift Card” holiday is a win-win: both the retailer and the cardholder benefit. It is a widely spread myth that retailers really do not want their cardholders to spend the funds. In fact, they prefer the funds are used. Purchasing a digital gift card provides a higher likelihood the card will not fall fate to breakage, as some personal information is captured during the process, enabling the retailer to provide notification of unspent funds.
John North, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Dayton and the Miami Valley, said the large amount of unused gift cards “is no surprise given that they are a popular gift for any occasion. Lost, misplaced and forgotten cards can add up quickly. Some consumers make an initial purchase and then forget and may even leave small amounts of dollars on the card. Those small amounts can add up as well.”And the BBB president’s advice for those who hold gift cards? “Spend the card immediately,” North said. “The most common reason a card goes unused is because it’s lost or misplaced.”
The self-described consumer warrior Clark Howard says the volatile retail landscape, with many retailers shutting down stores and perhaps flirting with bankruptcy, provides even more incentive to use gift cards quickly.
“There’s a real risk to you that a restaurant or retailer will go bust before you get a chance to use their gift card,” Howard wrote on his web site. “In that case, you’re out the money. … If you get a gift card for any occasion, you should treat it like a hot potato: Get it out of your wallet as soon as possible by using it.”
Overview by Sue Brown, Director, Prepaid Advisory service at Mercator Advisory Group