I sat at my desk, pondering the marketing campaign for our new product line as visions of sugarplums danced in my head. No-no-no. It just wasn’t coming together. I had to try again.
Lying here in the darkness, I can hear them as they throw off their covers and creep out of bed. The shuffle of flannel nightwear across their slipper tops echoes as they approach their squeaky door. My, children can be so loud this early in the morning. With all they strength and self-control they can muster, they tip toe slowly down the creaky stairs. I can imagine the sight of their bright eyes sparkling and watch the giggles suppressed right behind their pursed lips and guarding index finger. Their bodies nearly quake with anticipation.
I reflect on the sights they will discover in just a few moments and I sit up in bed to take it all in. I can remember how the twinkle of the Christmas tree lights and sound of the crackling fire as it was an hour ago when I came back to bed. And then, above the still and silence, I hear their muffled gasps as they survey the sight before them.
The stockings hang; limp, exactly as they were when they went to bed. The tree skirt is bare and unencumbered. Nothing is placed beneath the tree. The children begin to search the room for their presents as I roll out of bed, slip into my robe and pull on my slippers. As I approach the doorway, I hear them pull their stockings from their place above the fire. I stand in the doorway watching as they slip their little hands deep to the bottom and look up, with wide eyes and breath-pausing- surprise.
I clear my throat softly to announce “I am here” . Quickly, their young clumsy bodies spin ’round to confront me.
“OH. Mommy, Look! Santa brought me a GIFT CARD!”
A few Christmases ago, I was the Marketing Coordinator for an electronic-transaction-processing-company. It’s a mouthful but it means that I was responsible for creating marketing campaigns for stored value payment cards and gift cards. I became quite familiar with the words ‘interchange’, ‘surcharge’ and ‘fees’ while I was there. I feel qualified to share a few words for the wise.
In 2006, Christmas and holiday shoppers are expected to spend $457.4 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. The Gift Card is expected to be the number two best seller behind clothing or apparel. According to the 2006 American Express Gift Card survey, 66% of shoppers plan to give a gift card this year, compared with 57% last year. Deloitte & Touche predict that consumers will buy 4.6 cards per person, compared with 3.9 last year. Chances are, in other words, there will be a gift card in your household come Christmas morning. You just might want to know the rules about spending or losing your gift card.
Gift cards from the major credit card issuers carry an assortment of fees. All continue to charge monthly “maintenance” or “dormancy” fees, ranging from $2 per month to $3, if the gift card isn’t used within a certain period of time. All but American Express have expiration dates. It would be wise to look for and highlight that date before you slip the card in your wallet. Write yourself a note or put a reminder in your electronic calendar. Some gift cards can expire after 12 to 24 months if not used, which means the gift card is worthless if not used by that date. About 18 states have passed laws banning or limiting expiration dates on gift cards, but even so, nationwide, the value of unredeemed gift cards totaled over $2 billion last year alone.
But, the greatest drawback of gift cards has been the fees associated with them. On some cards, there are maintenance fees if the card isn’t used after six months or a year. An issuance fee of $5 to $10 can also be added to the amount of the cost for the card’s gift value. When a gift card includes a $10 issuance fee, then the fee is 20 percent of the actual gift value of a $50 gift card! There are fees for replacing a lost or stolen card. There is a fee to cut a check if the cardholder wants the balance refunded. There is a fee to check available funds. It would be wise to know the fees and limitations of the gift cards you receive.
You might also consider providing a disclosure with any gift cards that you give. Do you recall the old fashioned warning labels our grandmothers put on the packages shipped to our houses when we were young? Bright red marking pens with ink smell still potent upon arrival. Little sticky gold stars like our teacher’s used for grading papers stuck all over the brown paper wrapper. Every square inch considered as each was placed strategically to catch our attention. Great pains were taken to assure that our eyes beheld and our minds captured the boldly scrawled and retraced lettering of the demand that we “Do Not Open Before Christmas”.
Times have changed but I can guess. The bright red envelope arrives with the annual family Christmas card from grandma’s house. We know because right their on the front of the envelope we see that familiar handwriting, coupled with the annual return address label sparkling with pre-printed poinsettias in the upper left hand corner and Grandma’s name in gold lettering. We flip the envelope to open it and the back flap is sealed with an Easter Seal. But, behold! Something new has appeared to replace the age-old tradition. Scrawled across the entire surface of the envelope back, we read:
“WARNING – Open And Spend Quickly Or Pay the Price”.