Spend your gift cards now and don’t buy any more

If you’re struggling for Christmas gift ideas, or gift ideas for any occasion in fact, don’t settle for a gift card or vouchers. They’re unimaginative at the best of times but now is a particularly precarious time to be buying them.

The collapse of Arcadia group (Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Burton et al) this week made the problem quite clear – any Arcadia vouchers you have can only go towards 50% of the price of the good you’re buying.

In essence, if you want to spend a £10 voucher, you’d have to buy £20 worth of stuff, parting extra cash in the process.

There’s time pressure too. Any unspent gift card will essentially be lost if Arcadia does end up closing down for good – theoretically, the monetary value would be added to the list of debtors but actually getting that money may well prove impossible.

Similarly in the case of Debenhams vouchers – while you can still use them at full value, the department store could stop accepting them at any time, leaving you in the lurch.

Uncertainty around a business’ survival aside, there are plenty of other reasons not to buy vouchers or gift cards.

There’s the lack of choice for one – normally the vouchers limit you to a certain retailer, or a group of retailers.

Then there are the redemption restrictions. Some vouchers come with such complicated redemption criteria that you may well find that you’ll never have an opportunity to use it.

When you ask for a refund, you may be hit again. Instead of getting a cash refund, you may be expected to accept a voucher instead, even if it was only used for partial payment.

And finally, there’s the fact that they expire. Some give you two years’ grace period but others are even less.

So while vouchers, and indeed gift cards, may be a quick way for businesses of all sorts to raise cash, avoid them if you want the certainty of redemption when you want and for what you want indefinitely.

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