Why Retailers Love Gift Cards and How to Get the Most Out of Yours

January 3, 2018

12:45 pm

Take care when recycling your wrapping paper this post-holiday season, because the last thing you want to do is accidentally throw out your favorite Christmas gift. Gift cards are a popular holiday item — total gift card purchases peaked at $130 billion in 2015, and the industry as a whole is predicted to hit $160 billion by 2018 — and tragically, they’re far too easy to accidentally throw away.

Like many things, the entire existence of the gift card is a little bizarre when you think about it. It’s an entire cottage industry that revolves around consumers paying a store money for the possibility of getting a product at a later date from the same store and worth the same amount.

Stores Love Gift Cards

It’s certainly a no-brainer for a store to offer a gift card program. As far as bright ideas go, gift cards have been a godsend for retailers the world over.

While the stores all get paid for each and every card, one billion dollars‘ worth of gift cards go unused each year. Sure, some cards go entirely unused, but even the ones that are almost spent still help out retailers — if you get a $25 gift card and buy a $22.99 item before tossing the card in a drawer and forgetting about it, that extra $2.01 goes straight into the company’s profit margins.

Sure, those profits are always hanging over retailer’s heads in a Damocles sword-type situation, given that long-lost gift cards might be dug up and spent years after they were purchased. Starbucks alone has almost a billion dollars’ worth of liabilities clogging up its balance sheet thanks to its penchant for gift cards. But having a lot of potential money is far from the worst thing to happen to a corporation.

Retailers definitely have the upper hand in the gift card game. However, thanks to the ingenuity of the internet, there are a few ways you can strike back.

How to Resell Your Cards

Honestly, people tend to enjoy getting gift cards, too: They’re a little more personable than cold hard cash, and allow the giver to at least act like they know where the recipient likes to shop. But unless you get an Amazon gift card, chances are decent that you’ll wind up forgetting to spend the card, or maybe just don’t want to buy anything from that soap shop or hardware store that the card is for.

So I hope you have all those gift cards you received over the holiday season handy. Here’s a look at the online services you can rely on to turn those cards into cash. You won’t get one hundred percent of the value of the card at any reseller, so don’t bother with them unless you’d really prefer getting cash — hey, you might have bills to pay or a loan to whittle down, I won’t judge. Here are the options:

  • Raise — this site lets sellers set their own price when selling directly to buyers. The site then takes 12 percent off the deal.
  • Gift Card Granny — This site, “the biggest discount gift card website,” lets you trade in your card as well as buy and sell.
  • CardCash and CardPool — These sites function similarly: Unlike Raise, they buy directly from the seller and then sell directly to the user. They both offer up to 92 percent of the cards’ value when buying and will offer discounts of up to 35 percent of the card’s value when selling.

But while you’re exploring your options, keep one issue in mind: Scammers aren’t just something to worry about when you’re buying gifts before the holidays. They’re still a problem when you’re selling your gift cards after the holidays.

Beware of Gift Card Scammers

Craigslist and eBay, while great marketplaces for reselling products like old iPhones, aren’t the best when it comes to gift cards. Users can easily buy a card, spend the contents, and then claim that the card was already used when they got it.

Unfortunately, sticking to markets dedicated to gift card reselling won’t save you from the scammers. Gift card reselling apps and sites are an appealing sector for the type of scammer who puts in the effort of building an entire site to lure you in. Why? Because they can offer to connect your bank account directly to their site under the excuse that they can put refund the money from the gift card directly into your account. In reality, they’re just after your bank information.

You may find it tough to verify the authenticity of these sites and apps, too, as they might have cut a deal with the shadier “verification” sites online in order to appear legit. It’s the quickest way to trick people on the internet: Make sure your scam site shows up on a Snopes-knockoff site that is itself also a scam.

The easiest way to turn that gift card you’ll never use into cash is to turn to one of the four sites listed above. Barring that, you can always regift it. Just don’t let it languish in your sock drawer, or you’re letting the retailers win.

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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