Virtual Gift Cards - A KAKE News Special Report

By: Larry Hatteberg Email
By: Larry Hatteberg Email

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What's going to be one of the hottest gifts to give this holiday season? Industry insiders say virtual gift cards.

Shannon Duffy is a busy, single, working mother of two with no time to hit the stores. So she makes gift shopping cyber easy, and sends virtual gift cards.

Virtual gift cards are the hottest trend in shopping and social networking. Many stores are giving them away to web customers who visit their Facebook and online pages.

How are they different from regular gift cards?

Virtual gift cards can be instantly sent and spent online. Some businesses let you print out your certificate and spend it at the store while other retailers say "they’ve got an app for that."

In some cases, you can actually save your gift card points to your mobile phone and have the cashier scan it at checkout.

“As mobile technology advances so quickly, more and more retailers are adopting the use of virtual cards,” Karen Renk, Executive Director of Incentive Marketing Association said.

But there are some pitfalls to online gift giving.

Shannon actually received one once, thought it was spam and deleted it!

She and her gift giver had to battle with the retailer to get it reissued. Spam filters can be a real virtual gift card Grinch.

Consumer’s Union suggests giving your recipient a heads up you sent them an online gift card, so it doesn’t become virtual junk mail.

Some other info to keep in mind:

  • Cyber gift cards are regulated just like plastic gift cards under federal law.
  • A virtual gift card can’t expire for five years.
  • You can’t be charged dormancy fees as long as you use it once every 12 months.

But it’s wise to use your online gift card fast because if the store goes out of business, you could be out of luck.

Always read these little terms and conditions before you buy the virtual gift card to see what the specific rules are.

Even Shannon, who’s had mixed experiences —says she’ll be logging on to shop again this holiday season.

“They're perfect for sending and receiving. They're great for people who are homebound that can't get out to physical stores. They just log on and send one that way,” Shannon said.

If you ever lose your virtual gift card code or print out—call the retailer immediately. It may be able to re-issue you a new one with the amount of value remaining on it at the time you report it.

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