5 Tips for Using Unwanted Gift Cards

What To Do With Unwanted Gift Cards

How can we glean value from unused gift cards? That’s an important question, considering more than $45 billion in gift cards have gone unredeemed since 2005, according to TowerGroup and CardHub estimates.

CardHub – the only marketplace that allows you to sell ANY gift card, regardless of denomination or store affiliation – has come up with a list of 5 Tips for Using Unwanted Gift Cards in order to help people make more efficient use of their money. After all, we could use the extra cash to help pay off some of the roughly $60 billion in new credit card debt that we added to our tab in 2014.

You can check out the tips below, followed by our Ask The Experts section, where a panel of retail and consumer spending experts discuss the best ways to use old gift cards as well as other trends in the field.

  1. Sell Them for Cash
    An online gift card exchange enables consumers to sell gift cards for cash and fetch up to 95 cents on the dollar in return. CardHub’s gift card exchange is the only one that allows you to sell any gift card you wish at any price without charging any fees. The ability to sell to either individuals or respected gift card companies also increases your chances of finding a buyer.

    This is beneficial to people who had no idea gift cards could be sold for cash as well as to those who are discouraged from doing so because:1) their card is not affiliated with a major national retailer and therefore will not be accepted by an online gift card exchange; 2) they’ve used some of the card’s funds and an unusual denomination remains; 3) they have store credit instead of an actual gift card; or 4) they don’t want to give up any value to middle men.

  2. Re-Gift
    The holiday season isn’t the only time people give gift cards. In fact, holiday sales only account for about a quarter of the gift card market’s annual sales. So, if you think an unwanted gift card has someone else’s name written all over it, why not hang onto it, re-gift, and save the time, money and energy you would have expended looking for another present? Most stores allow you to trade in old gift cards for new ones, so there is no need to worry about giving a card bearing outdated branding.

    So, before trashing a card or selling it at a steep discount, it’s worth checking out your friends’ gift card wish lists as well as doing a pass through your mental Rolodex to see if you know anyone who might enjoy the card. You can kill two birds with one stone.

  3. Pay Down Debt
    The average household owes roughly $7,126 to credit card companies, and we’re beginning to rack up debt in some serious amounts: $122.2 billion from 2011 – 2013, roughly $60 billion in 2014 and at least that amount again this year. That means any extra money that can be allocated to building an emergency fund or paying down debt should be welcomed.

    And that, of course, makes the fact that you can sell unwanted gift cards for cash through a gift card exchange such as that offered by CardHub very useful. Why? Well, according to CardHub’s latest data, the average household has around $370 in unused gift cards lying around. A credit card calculator will show you that cashing in your gift cards could therefore provide you with the first monthly payment in a 24-month plan for becoming debt free.

  4. Swap Them
    CardHub offers the only gift card exchange that incorporates Facebook, thereby allowing consumers to simply swap gift cards with friends, neighbors or colleagues if they so choose.

    Finding a willing partner for a gift card trade is a great way to turn an unwanted gift into something you desire without sacrificing value. Simply use your social network to find someone who likes the gift card you have and has a comparable gift card from one of your favorite stores.

  5. Donate to Charity
    Charity organizations usually accept donations in a variety of forms, which may include gift cards. Even if a particular charity will not accept a gift card, you can always redeem it and donate the resulting goods.

(Obvious) Bonus Tip: If the above options don’t work for you, simply using your gift card is always a possibility, especially since you’ll be hard pressed to find a store from which you want or need nothing. Most all stores carry the essentials for their genre. For example, all clothing stores will have socks, all electronics stores will have headphones, and all hardware stores will have light bulbs.

So while using a gift card for the sake of using it can be a waste of money, it might also be the best remaining course of action if you haven’t been able to offload an unwanted card for quite some time. The one thing you need to watch out for is overspending due to the fact that you’re using a gift card. Roughly two-thirds of consumers spend more than the value of their gift card and you don’t want to make the situation even worse.

Ask The Experts:  Gift Card Tips & Tidbits

In search of added insight into the dynamics of the market for unused gift cards and the sources of consumer waste, we turned to a panel of leading experts in the fields of retail and consumer studies.  You can check out the questions we asked them below, followed by their headshots and bios.

  1. What are the best ways for people to put unwanted gift cards to use?
  2. How much interest are you seeing among consumers in the secondary market for gift cards?
  3. What are the biggest impediments to the secondary gift card market gaining mainstream appeal?
  4. Why do you think so much value is wasted by gift card buyers/recipients ($45 billion in unused cards since 2005)?  Do you think this undermines the perceived popularity of gift cards?
Back to All Experts

David Glen Mick

Robert Hill Carter Professor of Commerce, McIntire School of Commerce, University of VirginiaWhat are the best ways for people to put unwanted gift cards to use?

Donating them to charities is especially satisfying when the charities may need items that the gift card can cover.

How much interest are you seeing among consumers in the secondary market for gift cards?

Given that consumers are often not seeing the gift card as much as a pure gift as when they receive something like clothing or jewelry, there should be a fair amount of interest to forego what was seen less as a gift overall. Charities could probably do more to draw donations in the form of gift cards that they could use for needed items.

What are the biggest impediments to the secondary gift card market gaining mainstream appeal?

I think that it has to do with making consumers more aware of how these cards can be a quick and easy way to help organizations and individuals in need. Providing self-addressed stamped envelopes can make it straightforward for gift card owners to donate without much effort, just slipping the card into an envelope and mailing it off. Overall, I’m not sure consumers have been told how valuable those cards can be to some non-profit organizations.

Why do you think so much value is wasted by gift card buyers/recipients ($45 billion in unused cards since 2005)? Do you think this undermines the perceived popularity of gift cards?

I think people who receive these are inclined to procrastinate in using them, and then often forget about them, or alternatively they lose them since they are small and easily covered up by other things or accidentally pitched out. It’s different when you get a sweater as a gift. You try it on, and if it fits, you probably will keep it. You might start imagining which shirt or pants you will wear with it. This mental activity enhances the sense of ownership and likelihood of using it in the future.
Back to All Experts

Barbara Carrick Coleman

Professor of Marketing, Hull College of Business, Georgia Regents UniversityWhat are the best ways for people to put unwanted gift cards to use?

I have observed family and friends regift cards that they do not intend to use.

How much interest are you seeing among consumers in the secondary market for gift cards?

I am aware of a number of my students who have engaged in informal swaps among themselves. This avoids the hazards and frequent deception of online sources that buy and sell gift cards.

What are the biggest impediments to the secondary gift card market gaining mainstream appeal?

Consumers are savvy enough to be aware of deceptive activities associated with secondary trades.

Why do you think so much value is wasted by gift card buyers/recipients ($45 billion in unused cards since 2005)? Do you think this undermines the perceived popularity of gift cards?

Unless there is immediate motivation to use the card for something specific, it is easy to forget about or misplace cards. In a sense, gift cards are abstract—plastic symbols or placeholders for money--and, therefore, don’t elicit the kind of emotional response that actual gifts do -- positive or negative.

Nevertheless, from the giver’s perspective, the convenience and problem-solving ability of gift cards will most likely continue to make them easy fixes and favorite choices.
Back to All Experts

Robyn LeBoeuf

Associate Professor of Marketing, Olin School of Business, Washington University in St. Louis What are the best ways for people to put unwanted gift cards to use?

One option is for people to sell their gift cards on the secondary market. Many web sites allow people to sell gift cards – usually for some amount less than face value – to other people who might have use for them. For example, if you don’t want that $50 gift card to the Olive Garden that your friend gave you, you may be able to sell it online for $45 to someone else who does want it.

You could also consider re-gifting the gift card to someone else. Whatever you do, it seems better to act than to let the gift cards languish in a drawer, where the value is lost.

Why do you think so much value is wasted by gift card buyers/recipients ($45 billion in unused cards since 2005)? Do you think this undermines the perceived popularity of gift cards?

Our research suggests that one problem is that gift givers tend to purchase gift cards that are more specific than recipients want. We find that gift givers often choose gift cards that are very specific, such as a gift card to a recipient’s favorite boutique. However, recipients often prefer more versatile gift cards, such as a Visa gift card that can be used anywhere. For example, if you have a friend who is a “foodie,” you may be tempted to give him a high-end kitchen gadget or a gift certificate to a fabulous local restaurant. However, recipients usually have a variety of wants and needs, and your foodie friend might rather receive a Visa gift card, which he could use to dine at that local restaurant, to buy the kitchen gadget, or to buy anything else he might currently need – even something unrelated to food.

When recipients get gift cards that are too specialized – meaning cards that can only be redeemed at one store, or for one type of product – we find that they take longer to use those gift cards, if they use them at all. They are more likely to spend, and to spend quickly, general gift cards that can be used anywhere. This suggests that gift cards are a fine idea for gift givers, but that they might want to resist the temptation to give a specialized gift card that reflects something overly specific about the recipient’s personality, and to instead give a more general gift card. In many cases, givers can still personalize even the most general of gift cards by selecting a special design, customizing it with a photo, or adding a thoughtful note.

 
Image: Fabio Berti/Shutterstock

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