Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Blank Stare Meets the Confused Clerk

Blank stares and confused looks rule the day after the Great Gift Card Christmas of 2006. Early statistics indicate an increase in gift card purchases of more than thirty per cent over last year. We certainly contributed to the gift card craze at our house, but not without considerable effort. We hatched and executed a pretty ingenious plan for our sixteen-year-old son. We bought gift cards to various restaurants and entertainment venues, along with tickets to two upcoming concerts. My wife organized them all in an expandable file and labeled it “Chris’s night out.” For a guy with a girlfriend but no job, this worked out wonderfully.
We learned quickly during the process that the gift card concept trips up your average fast food worker. With only a couple of exceptions, we were unable to acquire gift cards from the first person we encountered. Time and again, we would ask for one and the manager had to be summoned. Many times, you could tell the poor guy was exasperated, with that “How many times to we have to go over this for God’s sake?” look on his face. We also quickly determined that it is essential to keep the receipts, particularly for those “reloadable” cards. We have a low level of confidence that all of our cards were properly processed.
Redemption proved to be an issue, too. The Day After Christmas, kids rushed to stores to help the value of those cards evaporate into a mist of video games, DVD’s and meals-on-the-go. I was in line at a major national electronics retailer when the blank stare went face to face with the confused clerk. A teenager ahead of me in the checkout line had a gift card valued at $25.00. His purchase came to thirty-two bucks and change. He gave the clerk the card and a ten dollar bill. Simple, right? Not so fast. The clerk took all the money and gave him back the gift card with a balance of seven dollars and change.
Am I wrong, or does this make absolutely no sense? Isn’t it obvious that you should use up the value of the gift card first, and then use the cash to offset the balance, giving change in cash? The kid’s mother was incredulous, and who can blame her? The thing is, it had to be explained to the clerk at least three times and the kid never got it. Frankly, he didn’t care. It’s not his money. He didn’t buy the gift card.
That’s the beauty of it for those retailers. There is no chance the purchase will be for the exact balance of the card. If you give a card to a customer (particularly a young one) with a balance on it, it is likely it won’t ever be used. That’s free money for the store. If the customer is compelled to use up the balance on the card, another purchase is executed, maybe one that wasn’t intended to begin with. That’s more money for the store.
It’s no wonder they’re pushing gift cards so hard. Now, if they can push their employees to learn to work with them properly, we’re getting somewhere.

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