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Consumer - Gift Vouchers / Gift Cards

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Whether you choose a gift voucher/gift card for a particular shop, chain of shops, a shopping centre or a range of different shops there are some golden rules you need you remember.

According to the annual Deloitte consumer survey of Christmas spending:

. Books (52%), clothes (49%) and gift vouchers (46%) are the most favoured presents adults in Ireland would like to receive this year - and somewhat reflects the presents they prefer to buy (books 55%, gift vouchers 55%).

. The average spend per household in Ireland this festive season will be €1,110.

. Of this, €660 will be spent on gifts, €265 will be spent on food, and €185 spent on socialising.

. This year, Irish consumers advised that they would spend nearly 30% less on gifts, 6% less on food and nearly 22% less on socialising.

. 61% of Irish people will prepare a budget for their Christmas shopping this year.

. Of this 61% grouping 36% will be first time budgeters this Christmas

. Some 42% of adults would like to receive cash as a present this year, but only 19% of people will actually give it.

. With regards to buying gifts for teenagers, most people will give music gifts (31%) and gift vouchers (29%), followed closely by books (28%).

. Some 35% of people will specifically buy gifts on the internet this year. The main reasons cited for doing so include more product choice (72%), the ease of home delivery (67%) and to avoid crowded stores (63%).

Tina Leonard, our consumer expert

Types of vouchers / cards

Your voucher could be for a specific shop or chain of shops; a shopping centre or one that covers a range of retailers and service providers.

Are gift vouchers regulated?

There is no specific consumer legislation or regulations governing gift vouchers. That means that whatever terms and conditions the shop imposes on the use of the voucher is what you are agreeing to adhere to when you buy it. However, on 5th November Labour Senator Brendan Ryan introduced a gift vouchers bill (Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Bill 2009, in the Seanad.

The proposal outlaws certain practices and aims to regulate the terms and conditions relating to the sale of gift vouchers. Under the Bill it would "be prohibited to sell or offer for sale, a gift voucher with a redemption period of less than five years. The net effect will be that all vouchers will remain valid for five years at least, following the passing of this Bill."

Senator Ryan says that as some vouchers are only valid for a short period, if people lose them, they lose their money. He says this is unfair and leaves consumers "out of pocket to the tune of considerable sums of money".

Bear in mind that this has not yet been discussed in the Seanad and even if it is then proposed to Government, it might never see the light of day. However, either way it does publicise the issue of unfairness with gift vouchers.

So, how long can I use my voucher for?

Well, without regulation that all depends on the shop in question. The deal is between you and the shop, so if they say 3 months that's all you have.

a) In some shops there is no clear policy or consistent approach on expiry dates, which is dreadful.
b) Other stores have a clear policy by printing it on the voucher itself or by making it clear on their website, in-store leaflets and posters and this is much better.
c) Better yet some stores are more flexible and have no expiry date on their vouchers.
d) Ex. (above) has a 10 month expiry but will give "special consideration for exceptional circumstances". If you lose your red ribbon voucher they will replace it if you have the serial number.
e) Ex. One4All (above) has a 12 month expiry and if you lose it or it's stolen they will replace for a fee of €8.

Can I use my voucher past the expiry date?

No you can't. If you get a voucher for Christmas that has a six month expiry and go to use it in July, you have broken the terms and conditions so they don't have to accept it. Having said that, always ask for the store's goodwill!

Also, if a shop refuses to honour a voucher that doesn't specify an expiry date, you have a valid case so complain to the shop and if that fails you have the option to refer the matter to the Small Claims Court.

Can I get cash back if I don't spend all of my voucher?

You do not have a right to get change in cash if you only partially use the voucher, unless the terms specifically state that change will be given.

Some shops will give you a new voucher as change and some will give you cash, often if it's under €5.

What can I do if I lose my voucher?

If you lose a gift voucher, the shop doesn't have to replace it. It's just like losing a bus ticket - or like losing cash - so always keep the voucher somewhere safe.
However, if the voucher was made out to you specifically and is not transferable to another person, the shop may be bound to issue you a new one and cancel the original voucher. For this you will need your receipt or proof of purchase, i.e. credit card statement.

What if the shop owner changes or it closes down?

When a shop changes ownership, the new owners may not have purchased the previous one's liabilities. This means they will not be bound to honour your voucher, and they can decide to offer you something else.
When a shop closes down the voucher becomes a liability the company has not met, so in legal terms you become an "unsecured creditor".
If a liquidator is appointed to wind up the company, you must register your claim with this official. Your claim will only be considered after all those of "secured creditors" and to be honest it would be very difficult to get the gift voucher honoured.

What to do when buying a gift voucher:

. Always make sure you know how long the voucher is valid for. If this isn't written on the voucher ask, and make sure you tell the person you are giving the voucher to
. Also ask what happens to an unused portion of the voucher, whether it can be used in every outlet and if can be used North / South.
. Minimise the risk by buying a voucher for a chain or for more than one outlet.
. Use the voucher as soon as possible, don't stick it in your bottom drawer.

A quick word about Christmas Savings Clubs

Be aware that if you join a Christmas Savings Club with a local retailer or organisation, that like vouchers these are unregulated. So ask what the terms and conditions are i.e. do you have to use money saved in that store? If you lose your savings card what happens? Can you take out your savings at any time? Is there an agreement to save a specific amount each week and if you can't do this is there a penalty?

Examples of gift vouchers

This is very well known and sells vouchers / gift cards that can be used in 950 retailers representing 4,500 outlets nationwide. Stores range from department stores to individual shops, hotels, restaurants etc. One4All will be launching a special restaurant cards soon and a new section devoted entirely to 'experiences', i.e. activities.
One4All has a fee €2 for first voucher in Post Office and 50c for subsequent or €3.49 transaction fee online.
This new Irish site has just launched in the last week. It specialises in gift vouchers for 'experiences'. So, you can buy a gift voucher for any amount and then it can be spent on any of the 1,000 things listed on the site (this will constantly grow). Examples include cooking, photography or language lessons; climbing; horse riding; spa; surfing; sailing; photo shoot etc. You can get a voucher for a specific 'experience' or a universal one so that the person you're giving the voucher to can choose what activity they want to do. They also have special offers, for example a 3 night (with dinner) 4 star hotel break away voucher might cost you €375 all inclusive, but do it for €249 and it can be used all year round including peak summer & bank holidays.

Tina Leonard