Gift cards: Use ’em or lose ’em

With companies closing stores and filing for bankruptcy, the rule is to use them now or risk losing the opportunity. Dreamstime/TNS

On Sept. 22 Smaaash go-carts at Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., abruptly closed its doors. The company left no forwarding information on how to contact it. That left Randy Kraemer of Rosemount, Minn., wondering if he had any recourse. “I’m sitting on a $100 gift card,” he said. “How do I get a refund now that SmaaashMOA is closed?”

That’s a question that consumers need to be asking about any unused gift card, especially as more retailers and restaurants close their doors without warning, leaving consumers with a worthless piece of plastic.

We all know we should redeem gift cards quickly, so why don’t we? “People don’t keep them handy,” said Shelley Hunter, a gift card expert at Giftcards.com. People should keep them next to the debit or credit cards people use most often or add them to your mobile wallet. “If you don’t want to carry them around, put them by your computer so they’re available when you’re shopping online,” she said.

Retailers that have announced select store closings should put consumers on alert.

Rumors of Gander Mountain’s bankruptcy started in March 2017 and people could still redeem its gift cards, but by May, the stores quit accepting them. Now almost 40 of 200 Gander Outdoors stores, which emerged from Gander Mountain’s bankruptcy, are in the process of closing nationwide, including the one in Watertown, according to a claim made on a sponsored Facebook post from the retailer.

CreditMonitorRisk.com put Gander’s parent company Camping World on a list of companies with a high chance of bankruptcy. Other retailers on the list? Christopher & Banks, J Crew, Neiman Marcus, J.C. Penney, Pier One and Rite Aid. Retailers with an elevated risk include Express, Francesca’s, J. Jill, Container Store, Kirkland’s, Sears, GNC, At Home and Build-A-Bear.

Even retailers that aren’t on a bankruptcy watch list close stores, including Forever 21, Lowe’s, Walmart, Target, CVS and Walgreens, but Hunter said no gift card should collect dust in today’s retail climate.

Restaurants are no different. National chains that have closed locations in 2019 include Famous Dave’s, Applebee’s, Noodles, Tim Hortons, Papa John’s and Subway.

When a company still has locations open in other cities, consumers can trying selling theirs for a discount on sites such as Giftcardgranny, Cardpool and Raise.

For retailers or restaurants that have already closed, Consumer Reports said it’s difficult to collect. It’s better to use a gift card before a troubled retailer such as Sears or Gander Outdoors start a company-wide liquidation.

Redeeming gift cards now is a sound strategy because many retailers and restaurants give up the ghost in December and January when holiday sales disappoint.

Tribune Wire

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