The gift cards are piling up for Neil Cooper. After counting, he says that he has 19 cards lying around his house.
“I have no idea how much is in any of these,” said Cooper, whose gift card collection ranges from The Keg to Canadian Tire.
“We don’t really go out much. Now maybe my wife will be upset about that because we could go out more. But we haven’t been a couple that has gone out to dinner much.”
Cooper is a busy pediatrician in Calgary who receives gift cards for Christmas or to give talks related to his work.
And you’re not the only one with a collection of unused gift cards.
Square, a fintech company that sells mobile payment devices, found that Canadians have more than $33 million in unspent gift cards through its platform alone.
And how inflation rises and wears out people’s wallets, those gift cards are getting less and less valuable. Of that money Square tracked, $20 million is in physical gift cards, while the other $13 million is in digital gift cards.
Cooper used to keep his cards in a file cabinet to keep them organized. But he discovered that he wasn’t thinking of using them.
So he moved them to the glove compartment of his car, but many are still unused. He has even gone a step further with his Tim Hortons gift cards.
“I took all the Tim Hortons cards out of the glove box and put them with the Tims rewards card with a clip on my dashboard so it’s there,” Cooper said.
Sales peak due to the pandemic
Wendy Cogan-Toyoda, who works with Square, says the company collected data on gift card usage from hundreds of thousands of businesses, including retailers, restaurants and other services.
“Customers forget they have these gift cards lying around. The physical ones and the digital ones. And it’s real money that they’re leaving on the table,” Cogan-Toyoda said.
Toyoda said that during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an increase in digital gift card purchases to support businesses while they were closed. She says those gift card sales were up 233 percent in March 2020, compared to a year earlier.
“They were held [by] customers to use for themselves at a later time when business reopens. And while many of the businesses have reopened, we still see a large number of vendors with unredeemed gift card balances.”
Cogan-Toyoda says the solution is to take inventory of your gift card stock and check balances so you can make the most of your extra funds.
And he says businesses can help with this too, by placing QR codes on the back of gift cards that will provide information about the remaining balance, the location of the business and whether there is an online store.
She says it’s important for businesses to make sure their customers use those gift cards, even if they already have the money.
“You want the customer to come back because, on average, your customers will overspend on that balance,” Cogan-Toyoda said.
“Finally [businesses] they want to see people walk in the door and make sure they come back, invite more friends and family, possibly reload their gift cards, buy more gift cards.”
so spend them
Cooper recently tried to use one of his restaurant gift cards, but when he went to swipe the card, he was told that another company had bought the chain and the gift card was no longer valid.
“I suspect that will be the case with one of these. I know one of these restaurants is no more,” Cooper said. “I guess we just won’t use that one.”
That’s why Bridget Casey says you shouldn’t let those gift cards gather dust.
“Use them right away, as soon as you can,” said Casey, an Edmonton-based finance expert who admits she even has stacks of her own unused gift cards.
“I often go to the store with four or five gift cards just to check the balance.”
Caset says they’re easy to forget because we don’t always carry them with us like we do with cash or a credit card. But leaving that money lying around can have consequences.
“Especially now that we’re in this high-inflation environment, there’s a good chance that the good or service you want to buy will be more expensive a few months from now,” Casey said.
“Anytime, as soon as you get a gift card, try to spend it right away. Like now, I try to keep mine in my wallet so I can see it when I open my debit or credit card.”
But, says Casey, don’t wear it just to wear it. Then you run the risk of overspending on the latest technology or buying something you don’t need. Instead, use your gift card for things you’d do or buy anyway.
“I’m saying spend your gift cards and save your real money.”
That’s what Cooper plans to do. He wants to put a dent in his pile of gift cards, starting with restaurants.
“Maybe my wife will be happy on Friday. We’ll see.”
Produced by Jennifer Keene.
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