Get Your Gift Card Balance Online

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  • All major UK retailers sell gift cards which you can purchase and give to friends and relatives as presents. Gift cards are also regularly bought by businesses to award to their staff as a thank you for a job well done.

Very often, gift cards are preferred over cash, as money often finds its way to more mundane, day-to-day expenditure – and with a gift card the purchaser can be assured that their recipient will use it for a special treat, and therefore the gift will be appreciated and remembered.

Gift cards can be particularly useful when buying for children.  We all know that kids like to have the latest toys and games – but how do you know you’re not buying exactly the same toy as some other well-meaning relative?  You can save yourself the embarrassment by buying a giftcard from a top toy-store, such as The Entertainer (and don’t forget that Argos, Next and John Lewis sell toys for all ages too).

In the past, shops and restaurants tended to offer paper gift vouchers, however these needed to be spent in one transaction and occasionally were subject to counterfeit attempts.

Paper gift vouchers are often only available from branches of the stores that issue them, whereas gift cards can be bought at lots of different types of outlets, including petrol stations, supermarkets (Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s stock a wide selection of gift cards, Waitrose only sells cards for Waitrose and John Lewis partnership) and newsagents, such as WH Smith.  There’s even a selection of popular gift cards on sale in Argos.

Nowadays, most retailers and restaurants use plastic gift cards.  These have the advantages of being convenient – small plastic cards fit neatly with bank cards in a purse or wallet, they are more secure, being difficult to  counterfeit or copy, and offer the extra advantages to the customer of being able to carry any unspent balance forward to future purchases. Some gift cards even allow the customer to ‘Top up’ the card with more credit.  It is also much easier for businesses to arrange for their websites to accept gift cards than paper vouchers, and provide additional services such as the facility to balance check gift cards online.

From a retailer’s perspective, gift cards are much easier to handle than gift vouchers, as the value on the card isn’t “loaded” until a customer purchases the card.  This means that the gift cards can be arranged on open displays for the customer to select, whereas paper gift vouchers need to be treated securely as cash.

Progressive retailers such as John Lewis, Superdry and B&Q now offer the facility to purchase e-gifts online.  These are essentially electronic gift cards which can be purchased, delivered and spent immediately – they can even be send directly to the recipient by email.  Clever versions of these e-cards can be used online and, if needed, printed out and taken into the issuing store to be spent there.  Digital e-gift cards are increasingly popular – research by the UK Gift Card and Vouchers Association shows 42% of millennials have already bought an e-gift as a last-minute present.

So, are there any drawbacks to using gift cards?  Well yes, a couple.

Gift Cards cannot usually be swapped back to cash

Most retailers prohibit cards being redeemed for cash: once you’ve got a gift card, your only option is to spend it at the store.  This isn’t entirely true, as there is a secondary market for gift cards.  Websites like Ebay frequently have gift cards for sale, below their face value. In most cases, these are a bargain – with 50% savings to be had on less popular, or specialist retailers.  For more popular retailers, expect savings of only 5-10%.  Of course, it is possible that the card won’t arrive or won’t work when you get it (just as it is possible with any remote auction sale) however you should be protected by eBay.

Gift cards and e-gift cards are items that are specifically excluded from Paypal’s ‘Paypal Protection’ – so watch out for this.

You will find that if you return goods that were originally paid for using a gift card to a store, or send them back in the case of an online order, the retailer will refund you by the original payment method used – i.e. they will send you another gift card.  Nice try, though.

Gift cards normally have an expiry date

Many gift cards have an expiry date, meaning they need to be used within a set time after being purchased.  Most UK gift cards have a validity period of 2 years, such as Sports Direct and Debenhams, however some have much less (12 months), some more (B&Q gift cards are valid for 5 years, for example) and some never expire (like those issued by TK Maxx).

Cynical folks might think that this is to do with the retailer wanting to pocket the cash – and in part, this is true.  Another reason retailers cite for ‘expiring’ gift cards is accounting concerns – businesses, especially businesses with shareholders, don’t want a the large liability representing unredeemed gift cards on their balance sheet each year.

Different rules about gift card validity periods apply to different cards.  Some base the validity period from the last transaction, some from the initial sale of the card and some will reset the validity period just by making a balance enquiry.  On our site we let you know what expiry rules apply for every gift card listed, so you should know exactly where you stand.

Gift cards need to be treated as cash

If you lose a gift card or it is stolen, there’s a good chance the money is lost, just as with cash.  Some retailers have a registration process whereby you can register your gift card by giving your name, address and email address online.  This might get you a replacement if the card is lost – however if the value on that card has already been spent at the time you make a claim, there’s a good chance that it’s hard luck for you.

Gift card holders are low down the pecking order if a business goes out of business

The most recent example of this is House of Fraser.  When the company went into administration, the new owners made the decision to honor gift cards for a limited time, so long as these were sent in to House of Fraser Head Office where they were swapped with new cards for the new business.

In 2007, Zavvi retail – which was jettisoned by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group (the stores used to be Virgin Megastores) went into administration, and the administrators decided not to honour outstanding gift cards.

A similar situation occurred with the music store HMV when they went into administration in 2013 and Jessop’s camera stores before they were bought and successfully re-launched by the entrepreneur Peter Jones.

This needn’t be a problem if the business for which you are buying gift cards is on a solid financial footing, but may be a concern for smaller retailers, or retailers that are known to be struggling.