$1 billion in gift cards go unused every year — here’s how to avoid that
It’s a particularly sad Christmas when people don’t even want the gift cards you gave them.
The gift card may seem like the perfect fallback gift for those who don’t know what to buy loved ones for the holidays, but sometimes even these presents don’t quite hit the mark. Consumers spent more than $130 billion on gift cards in 2015, up from $118 billion in 2013, according to advisory company CEB TowerGroup, but it said roughly $1 billion went unspent last year, similar to the estimated gift card waste in 2013, according to its latest estimates. Gift cards are perfect for online shopping, especially when families are spread out across the country, said Eddie Alberty, vice president of Strategic Partnerships at e-commerce site Market America and Shop.com.
Based in London, Israeli startup Zeek is one of the most recent companies to enter the unclaimed gift card market, raising $9.5 million in venture capital funding in July to solve the problem. It advertises discounts up to 25% on gift cards and says nine out of 10 gift cards sell in less than 24 hours on its site. It takes a commission out of each sale, its amount depending on the gift card. Zeek is available for free download on the iTunes and Google Play app stores.
However, even the generic nature of gift cards doesn’t guarantee they will be used. “There’s nothing worse than having a bunch of gift cards in your pocket you aren’t going to use,” Alberty says. A number of apps and online exchanges have emerged to solve this problem, and allow people to buy gift cards at a discount from the store price.
Raise, a marketplace for gift cards hosts more than 3,000 brands and has saved consumers a projected $100 million since its launch in 2013, the company claims. Users can list gift cards on the service and have money deposited directly into their bank accounts after the card is sold (Raise collects a 15% sales commission and $1 or a 1% listing fee from the profit). It sells a gift card every second on its market and the average order value on Raise is $200, the company says. In addition to offering a place to buy and sell cards, Raise also has a wallet feature where users can store cards (by typing in the code on the back of the card).
Similar to Raise, Cardpool works as a platform for users to buy and sell gift cards. It boasts a slightly higher take-home rate as people who use it can get up to 92% of a gift card’s value, but the payout may take longer to process. Cardpool takes a small portion of the gift card as commission that varies depending on store. Unlike Raise the funds don’t post directly to users bank accounts — they either can be paid out by “Amazon eGift Card” AMZN, -2.00% or a physical check, which takes three to seven days to arrive. Its mobile app is free to download on iTunes.
The good news: It has become much harder for retailers to make money off out-of-date cards in recent years. The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 ruled that they should not expire until five years after they are issued, or after the date they are loaded with money.
There are other problems aside from the 5-year timeline. Only 50% of small businesses last approximately 5 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If a business does go under, consumers (and their gift cards) may have to get in line behind a creditor who could be owed millions of dollars. And the 5-year minimum expiration date, while designed to give back more power to the consumer, may also encourage people sit on their laurels, increasing the likelihood that the cards will be forgotten or lost.