Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Gift of Plastic

There has been a lot of talk recently, or at least a lot of unsolicited exaggerated e-mails, about which gift card to buy and which not to buy this year because of the potential for retailers selling the gift cards to go belly up before the lucky recipient of the card gets around to using it. Whether or not this is exaggerated rumor or whether there is any veracity in the hullabaloo I don't know. Could it really be that if I buy a gift card for a friend to, let's say, Wal-Mart, is it likely that the mega-chain will fold soon? Likely not. If, however, I buy a gift card to the newly opened "All You Can Eat Buffet To Go" restaurant, it's likely that my friend will be unable to use it before the restaurant owner is eaten out of house and home.

Could it be that these claims are just deleterious and nefarious aspersions of competitors vying for a bigger piece of the gift card pie? I could easily see the owner of "Joe's Auto Massage" spreading a rumor that his competitor, "Ken's Kar Karessing" is going out of business. In such a narrow, limited market consisting of the small percentage of insane people who think automobiles benefit from an oiled rubdown, one might resort to such dubious business practices to increase customers, or to get a single one.

For the most part, the claims have been falsified. Stores like Talbot's Kids, Talbot's Mens, Talbot's Womens, and Talbot's Pets have no plan to close; however, company spokespersons have admitted that Talbot's Zombies is closing it's doors. Other companies on the list like Eddie Bauer, Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant, The Gap, Zales, Home Depot, and CompUSA are in fact closing down some stores, but mainly at night when the mall closes. Look for them to rebound the following day around 10:00am.

Stores like The Sharper Image and Wilson's Leather are already out of business, so if you buy a gift card from them, you must have purchased it from a charlatan who was likely standing outside the deserted building that used to be the actual store. Either that or you bought in on online on ebay for pennies on the dollar, so the fact that you won't get to use it is nullified by the fact that you got a great steal and have already realized real savings. Call your useless card a "bargain book mark."

There is one gift card that is currently available whose provider will never go out of business--a Planned Parenthood gift card!! The perfect gift for those who have everything the want, and maybe something they don't. I'm not sure how many $25 dollar cards are flying off the shelf, but I imagine that amount won't get you much, but at least there's no "onerous" exchange or real money, just a swipe of the card at the counter.

Not that I don't appreciate the charitable considerate gift card to Starbucks every now and the, but aren't gift cards just cop out gifts given by the uncreatively lazy? First of all, giving a gift card is like giving cash, except with the limitation of having to spend it only a facility of the giver's choosing. It's like telling the person, "Hey, I didn't know what to get you 'cause I didn't think about it all that hard or cleverly 'cause I don't really know you well enough to do that anyway, but I DO know that Super Wal Mart has everything, so here's a thoughtful gift card of $10. Get yourself something nice, and remember it's from me . . . " Or "I forgot to get you something until the last minute. I suddenly rembered at the checkout while I was buying a new bulb for my broken tail light, so enjoy this gift card of $20 to Auto Zone. Remember, they'll INSTALL wiper blades if you buy them there."


Gift cards are really a scam by the issuing business anyway. Not only is it money in their pocket today for goods and services purchased tomorrow, it is very often money in their pocket today for goods and services purchased next year or never. If you're like me and have a lot of hoplessly lazy friends who don't really know me very well, you've gotton your share of gift cards. I have to confess that unless I use them the day I get them, they get filed in my wife's accordian file under the correct alphabetical tab where they sit and mature and depreciate until the expiration date passes or the plastic decomposes. When I think of shopping somewhere or grabbing a bite to eat, I do not first say, "To where do I possess a gift card?" Instead I say, "What do I need and where can I get it?" and "For what am I hungry?" (I actually put prepositions first when I talk to myself.)

Even when I DO get around to using the things, I've noticed that the recipients, specifically waiters and waitresses, seem put off by having to deal with a card (especially if you try to pay for the meal with an Auto Zone card.) I almost feel like they judge me too, saying things in their head like, "I kind of had a suspicion that you really couldn't afford to eat her. Now I know for sure--your meal was financed by a rich, benevolent benefactor! How on Earth are you going to tip me?"

And then there's always that awkward amount leftover at the end. You're standing at the register saying, "Let's see, what else can I get for 57 cents. Do you sell gum by the stick?" THAT'S where the companies actually make their money, assuming the card gets used at all. It's the small change left unspent that accumulates on a grand scale, just like in "Office Space." Either that, or the customer ends up spending ADDITIONAL money to augment that 57 cents to actually get something decent. "Let's see, 57 cents left . . . . I tell you what. Let's throw in that 50,000 BTU stainless steel gas grill and that basketball hoop. How much extra do I owe you?" I guess cards are a clever way to get us into the stores, where we usually spend more than the value of the card.

That, or we forget we even have the card to begin with, but keep going to that merchant in the hopes of using it, leaving our accordian file at home, filed under "D" for "D'oh!"In all seriousness, all the support and meal cards I received from family and friends during my surgical ordeals were used and were very much appreciated. Thank you all.

It's those two Macaroni Grill cards I still have from almost 10 years ago that I'm now too sentimental to part with that this blog is about.


Anonymous said...

I don't know what I'd do without my accordian file which organizes gift cards and restaurant coupons, thank you very much! I, unlike you, like using gift cards - I see it as a gift, and I try to get myself something that I normally wouldn't pay for - like an $3 mocha coffee (hold the coffee). Sure, it's more fun to open real presents on Christmas day, but after the Ab Cruncher and the creme brulee torch, perhaps I would do better to select my own gifts.

Teri said...

We’d love to set the record straight! It’s true all Wilsons Leather mall stores closed early this fall. However, Wilsons Leather Outlet stores and were purchased mid July by AM Retail a privately held subsidiary of GIII Apparel Group. GIII’s strong financial backing allows Wilsons Leather Outlets and to continue to operate as the same great company you’ve come to know dedicated to providing luxury and style at exceptional values for the fashion conscious consumer. 119 Wilsons Leather Outlet stores including 3 new stores can be found in outlet centers and airports across the country. For locations near you search Store Locator on Wilsons Leather gift cards are available in-stores and online and are a great gift for any occasion. Gift cards previously purchased from closed Wilsons Leather mall stores will be honored at any of our Wilsons Leather Outlet locations as well as online at


Bill Hutchison
Executive Vice President, Chief Merchandising Officer

Anonymous said...

Wow, I didn't know you were so chubby with Wilson's leather.

I was getting ready to chew you out until I read the last 2 paragraphs.

You can always send your unwanted gift cards to me.

It sounds like you are doing better.

kwkorpi said...

There you have it! Wilson's Leather is still an option for gift cards. Check out their fine products at the website left by Bill.

Thanks Bill for clearing that up.

Any word on the Sharper Image stores? That was always my favorite store to browse through. I seldom saw anyone buying the expensive, luxury gadgets. I guess that's why they filed for bankruptcy. Too many people were "looking and touching" and not "touching and breaking."

kwkorpi said...

Good point Shealynn. Touche!