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Got gift cards gathering dust? Now is the time to use them

Got gift cards gathering dust?  Now is the time to use them

Got gift cards gathering dust? Now is the time to use them

Gift cards are piling up for Neil Cooper. After a count, he kicks his house with 19 cards.

“I don’t know how many are in one of these,” said Cooper, whose gift card collection ranges from The Keg to Canadian Tire.

“Honestly, we don’t go out that much. Now, my wife might be upset because we could go out more. But we haven’t been a couple that goes out to dinner much.”

Cooper is a busy pediatrician in Calgary who receives gift cards for Christmas gifts or for speaking engagements related to his work.

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 in unspent gift cards through its platform alone.

And like inflation rises and erodes people’s wallets, those gift cards have less and less value. Of that money that Square is tracking, $20 million is in physical gift cards, and another $13 million is in digital gift cards.

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

Cooper kept his cards in a filing cabinet to keep them organized. But he found he didn’t think to use them.

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

“I took all the Tim Hortons cards out of the glove and put them with the Tims reward card on the board with a paper clip so it’s there,” Cooper said.

Pandemic sales surge

Wendy Cogan-Toyoda, who works with Square, says the company has 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 it’s real money they’re leaving on the table,” Cogan-Toyoda said.

Toyoda said that at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a surge in digital gift card purchases to support businesses while they were closed. It says gift card sales were up 233 percent in March 2020 compared to the previous year.

“They held them back [by] at a time when customers expect to reopen the business for their own use. And while many of the businesses have reopened, we’re still seeing a significant number of sellers who haven’t redeemed their gift card balances.”

Gift card purchases spiked during the pandemic, says Wendy Cogan-Toyoda. (Shannon Martin/CBC)

Cogan-Toyoda says the solution is to take inventory of your gift card stock and check balances so you can take advantage of your extra funds.

And he says businesses can help with that, 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 the presence of an online store.

He says it’s important for companies to make sure 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.

“In the end [businesses] He wants to make sure people come through the door and come back, invite more friends and family, maybe reload gift cards, buy more gift cards.”

So spend it

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

“I suspect that might be the case with one of these. I know one of those restaurants isn’t around anymore,” Cooper said. “I guess we won’t use that.”

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 financial expert who admits she also has stacks of unused gift cards.

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

“I often go to the store with four or five gift cards 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 credit cards. But leaving that money around can have consequences.

“Especially in this hyper-inflationary environment right now, there’s a good chance 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 them when I open my debit or credit card.”

But, Casey says, don’t use it just for the sake of using it. Then you risk overspending on the latest technology or buying something you don’t need. Instead, put your gift card toward things you were going to make or buy anyway.

“I’m talking about spending your gift cards and saving real money.”

That’s what Cooper plans to do. He wants to make 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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