Do you have gift cards gathering dust? Now is the time to use them

Gift cards are piling up for Neil Cooper. After a count, he says he has 19 cards in his house.

“I have no idea how much these cards cost,” said Cooper, whose collection of gift cards ranges from The Keg to Canadian Tire.

“We don’t really go out much. Now maybe my wife will be upset because we might go out more. But we’re not a couple that goes out for dinner a lot.”

Cooper is a busy pediatrician in Calgary who receives gift cards as gifts for Christmas or for giving work-related talks.

And he’s not the only one with a collection of unused gift cards.

Square, a fintech company that sells mobile payment devices, found that Canadians had more than $33 million in unspent gift cards on its platform alone.

And like inflation is rising and depleting people’s wallets, these gift cards are becoming less and less valuable. Of that money Square is tracking, $20 million is on physical gift cards, while the remaining $13 million is on digital gift cards.

This is just part of Neil Cooper’s collection of unused gift cards. (Submitted by Neil Cooper)

Cooper used to put his cards in a binder to organize them. But he discovered that he was not thinking of using them.

So he moved them to the glove compartment of his car, but many are still unused. He even went further for his Tim Hortons gift cards.

“I took all the Tim Hortons cards out of the glove box and put them along with the Tims Rewards card with a paperclip on my dashboard so they were there,” Cooper said.

Pandemic sales spike

Wendy Cogan-Toyoda, who works with Square, says the company has collected data on gift card usage from hundreds of thousands of businesses, including retailers, restaurants and other services.

“Customers forget they have these gift cards lying around. The physical cards and the digital cards. And that’s real money they’re leaving on the table, Cogan-Toyoda said.

Toyoda said at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an increase in purchases of digital gift cards to support businesses while they were closed. She says these gift card sales increased 233% in March 2020, compared to the previous year.

“They were detained [by] customers to use for themselves later when the business hopefully reopens. And while many businesses have reopened, we are still seeing a high number of sellers with unredeemed gift card balances.”

There’s been a spike in gift card purchases during the pandemic, says Wendy Cogan-Toyoda. (Shannon Martin/CBC)

Cogan-Toyoda says the solution is to take inventory of your gift card inventory and check balances so you can take full advantage of your extra funds.

And she says businesses can help with that, too, by putting QR codes on the back of gift cards that will provide information about the remaining balance, the location of the business and whether there’s an online store.

She says it’s important for businesses to make sure their customers use these gift cards, even if they already have the money.

“You want the customer to come back because, on average, your customers will overspend on that balance,” Cogan-Toyoda said.

“At the end of the day [businesses] I want to see people walk through the door and make sure they come back, invite more friends and family, possibly top up their gift cards, buy more gift cards.”

So spend it

Recently, Cooper tried to use one of his restaurant gift cards, but when he went to swipe the card, he was told another company had bought the chain and the gift card wouldn’t work. was no longer valid.

“I suspect one of them might be. I know one of those restaurants no longer exists,” Cooper said. “I guess we just won’t use that one.”

That’s why Bridget Casey says you shouldn’t let those gift cards gather dust.

“Use them immediately, whenever you can,” said Casey, an Edmonton-based finance expert who admits she even has stacks of her own unused gift cards.

Bridget Casey says you should be more organized with your gift cards, so you can save money and spend your gift cards. (Radio Canada)

“A lot of times I go to the store with four or five gift cards just to check the balance.”

Caset says they’re easy to forget because we don’t always carry them with us like we do with cash or a credit card. But leaving that money can have consequences.

“Especially right now when we’re in this high inflation environment, chances are the good or service you want to buy will be more expensive in a few months,” Casey said.

“Anytime, as soon as you receive a gift card, try to spend it right away. Like now, I try to keep mine in my wallet so that I actually see it when I open my debit card or my credit card.”

But, says Casey, don’t use it just to use it. You then run the risk of overspending on the latest technology or buying something you don’t need. Instead, use your gift card for things you would do or buy anyway.

“I say spend your gift cards and save your real money.”

That’s what Cooper plans to do. He wants to make a dent in his stack of gift cards, starting with restaurants.

“Maybe my wife will be happy on Friday. We’ll see.”


Produced by Jennifer Keene.

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