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Advertising Age writes that Consumer Reports has identified a new target, and is taking out ads to alert shoppers to what it sees as a real issue – the fact that “more than one in four recipients of gift cards last season failed to redeem them a year later. And that created a financial windfall for retailers across the country.” This, according to Tod Marks, a senior editor at Consumer Reports, is “like flushing $8 billion down the toilet.”

And, Ad Age writes, “It's not the first time the publication has taken on a practice it believes to be detrimental to the public. Last year, the magazine ran a similar campaign cautioning buyers against purchasing extended warranties. It's perhaps one reason why the publication's latest survey found that fewer respondents -- 42% to 37% -- intend to buy one this season compared to last year.

“But the magazine may have a bigger fight on its hands this season. Once regarded as an option for the lazy, inconsiderate or time-starved, gift cards are expected to reach $100 billion in sales this season. In fact, according to a recent study by Deloitte, gift cards have become the most popular item swapped over the last four years, with 69% of respondents intending to purchase one this year. Shoppers are embracing them more, too, with only 19% of the Deloitte study believing that they're ‘too impersonal,’ down from 22% last year.”

While Consumer Reports concedes that gift cards are a convenient option, it also notes that they often come with strings attached – expiration dates and activation fees, for example – that reduce their desirability. And, the magazine reports that “shopper behavior may not match their professed enthusiasm for gift cards. For instance, of the 27% who didn't redeem the full value of their cards last season, nearly a third indicated they ‘forgot about it’ while 35% said they ‘have not found anything’ they wanted to buy. In addition, nearly six in 10 indicated they simply didn't have the time to redeem the card.”

KC's View:
This seemed like a relevant story to report, since so many retailers seem to have a plethora of such cards for sale somewhere near their front ends. (Don't get me started on which it is a bad idea for supermarkets to be selling gift cards to The Olive Garden and Dunkin’ Donuts…)

We all, I suspect, have had the experience of finding old gift cards in a pocket or drawer…and often find ourselves wondering if they still are any good, or if there is any money left on them. Now that would be a useful gift card – one that actually showed remaining value. (That can't be an impossible technology, can it?) As for expiration dates and activation fees – well, those are just a joke designed to take advantage of the consumer.