March 26, 2020
I happen to loathe gift cards. They are the lazy person’s gift. Why not just make a gift of cash, so the recipient can spend it wherever he or she wants? The gift card limits the choice to one retailer, and one of three things will happen with the card: One, the recipient will not use up the entire card, and the retailer will retain the difference (which is like giving free money to the retailer) or, two, the recipient will end up having to spend more than the card’s value (which is like giving a gift, but making the recipient pay for some of it).
Or, three, the gift card won’t get used at all. Every year, $3 billion worth of gift cards go unused. According to one source, Starbucks makes $155 million a year from unredeemed gift cards, while Starbucks sells $1.6 billion worth of gift cards a year, which operate as an interest-free loan from consumers to a corporate behemoth.
That said, if your favorite local restaurants or Mom and Pop retailers offer gift cards, now is a pretty good time to be buying them. If you’re going to make an interest-free loan, why not do it to the local small business? And, in a world in which small businesses are in crisis, it’s a small measure of assurance that, eventually, things are going to be okay.
Yesterday, in an effort to do my tiny bit in these challenging times, I bought some take-out from the Thai restaurant across the street from my office, and purchased a gift card while I was at it. The expression of gratitude on the face of the proprietor said it all.
We are in for some very challenging times. But we’ll look out for each other, and we’ll pull through. I promise. I got a gift card I need to redeem.