March 22, 2023

Do you have gift cards gathering dust? Now is the time to use them | CBC radio

The gift cards are stacked for Neil Cooper. After counting, he says he has 19 cards at home kicking.

“I have no idea how many of these there are,” said Cooper, whose gift card selection ranges from The Keg to Canadian Tire.

“We don’t really go out that much. Maybe my wife resents it because we could go out more. But we haven’t been a couple that goes out to dinner a lot.”

Cooper is a busy pediatrician in Calgary who receives gift cards for Christmas gifts or for work-related conversations.

And he’s not the only one with a collection of unused gift cards.

Square, a financial technology company that sells mobile payment devices, found that Canadians are sitting on more than $33 million worth of unused gift cards through its platform alone.

And like inflation accelerates and eats away at people’s wallets, Gift cards are less and less valuable. Of the money Square tracks, $20 million is in physical gift cards and the remaining $13 million is in digital gift cards.

This is just part of Neil Cooper’s collection of unused gift cards. (posted by Neil Cooper)

Cooper used to keep his cards in a filing cabinet to keep them organized. But he realized he wasn’t going to use them.

So he moved them to the glove compartment of his car, but many still go unused. He’s even taken it a step further with Tim Hortons gift cards.

“I’ve taken all the Tim Hortons cards out of the glove box and put them with the Tims rewards card on my dashboard with a paper clip so it’s there,” Cooper said.

Pandemic selling point

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 around. Physical and digital. And they’re leaving real money on the table,” Cogan-Toyoda said.

Toyoda said that with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, purchases of digital gift cards increased to support businesses while they were closed. According to him, the sale of gift cards increased by 233 percent in March 2020 compared to the previous year.

“They were detained [by] customers can use themselves later when the business hopefully reopens. And while many businesses have reopened, we’re still seeing a lot of sellers with unredeemed gift card balances.”

There was a spike in gift card purchases during the pandemic, says Wendy Cogan-Toyoda. (Shannon Martin/CBC)

Cogan-Toyoda says the solution is to take inventory of your gift card stash and check balances to make use of your extra funds.

He says that companies can also help with this by putting QR codes on the back of gift cards that provide information about the remaining balance, the location of the company and the existence of an online store.

He says it’s important for companies to make sure customers use gift cards even if they already have money.

“You want the customer to come back in, because on average, your customers spend too much of that balance,” Cogan-Toyoda said.

“Eventually [businesses] I want to see people come through the door and make sure they come back, invite more friends and family, possibly reload their gift cards, buy more gift cards.”

So consume them

Recently, Cooper tried to use one of his restaurant gift cards, but when he went to swipe the card, he was told another company bought the chain and the gift card was no longer valid.

“I suspect that maybe one of these will happen. I know one of these restaurants is no longer around,” Cooper said. “We just don’t use it.”

That’s why Bridget Casey says you shouldn’t let gift cards gather dust.

“Use them immediately, as soon as possible,” said Casey, an Edmonton-based financial professional who admits she even has stacks of unused gift cards of her own.

Bridget Casey says you should be more organized with your gift cards so you can save money and use your gift cards. (CBC)

“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 the money can have consequences.

“Especially now that we’re in this high-inflation environment, there’s a good chance that the good or service that you want to buy is going to be more expensive in a few months,” Casey said.

“Anytime, as soon as you get a gift card, try to use it right away. Like now, I really try to keep mine in my wallet so I can see them when I open my debit or credit card.”

But Casey says, don’t use it just to use it. Then you risk spending too much on the latest technology or buying something you don’t need. Instead, invest your gift cards in things you would do or buy anyway.

“I say use your gift card and save your real money.”

That’s what Cooper plans to do. He wants to make a dent in his stack 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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