How outrageous is this?
It hardly takes a genius to figure out that “gift cards” are a ripoff: you give a shop your real money, that you can spend anywhere, and in exchange you receive a piece of card that can only be spent at that store. All so you can avoid the effort of having to choose a gift, whilst artificially avoiding the “ickiness” of giving someone money. (Because the critical part of the tradition that giving money is lazy and thoughtless is that actual currency is much less physically attractive than something with a corporate logo on it.)
But it’s the realisation that, unlike with real money, the people behind it can simply default on their debt to you, that should really tip you off as to why the things are absurd.
It happened to Australian consumers more than a decade ago with the old music business Brashs; now it’s happened again with bookseller Angus & Robertson.
(Hey, guys, that “adding an Australian market premium to every book” thing worked out brilliantly for you, didn’t it?)
Why is it not a legislative requirement that any company that provides “gift cards” must retain the money to pay out those cards? That until they’re exchanged for an actual good, the company is basically holding the customer’s money on trust? Why is a company allowed to spend that money before it has actually provided the service for which it was exchanged?
Here’s how it should work: the company retains a record of all gift cards issued, and that money is held in a trust – a trust to which the company’s other creditors do not have access. The company can only take that money out as the gift cards are redeemed. If the company goes bankrupt, consumers can have faith they’ll get their money back.
It should be part of the consumer credit code – and until it is, consumers should boycott the things. There are far too many liberties that companies can take with that money that shouldn’t yet be considered theirs.
And if you’re looking for a present for me and thinking of giving a gift card? I won’t think any less of you if you leave it as cash, I promise.
UPDATE: Strikethrough the line about the retailers being to blame for the high prices – that’s the parasitic distributors and a compliant government (including, I regret to say, the Greens).