Needlepoint Class - Chuck Poulsen  

Did you get a gift card?

There is a gift card tacked on the bulletin board above my computer. It's for Memphis Blues restaurant downtown.

I've used it twice but the card has been staring me in the face for our third Christmas together.

This is annoying but if it was stashed in a drawer, the card would be forgotten.

Of the 27 per cent of gift card recipients who don't redeem them, almost 50 per cent say they forgot they had them.

The chances that you received a gift card for Christmas are as good as weeping over your next credit card statement.

The cards are one of the top four Christmas presents, along with clothing, electronics, toys and, my personal favourite, cash.

In Canada, 40 per cent of adults received at least one gift card for Christmas. They account for $1.26 billion worth of holiday spending in Canada.

Retailers love the cards. They get the money up front and can rely on a 27 per cent net profit from cards that go unredeemed.

As an aside, my wife long ago quit the notion I will surprise her with something she really wants.

"But we needed a new toaster," I reasoned just before ducking the flying toaster.

Mrs. Poulsen forwarded me an e-mail this year from The Greenery. It allows me to type in my credit card number and print a gift certificate.

The Greenery site contains a sample of what the certificate looks like. In the box for "amount" they have - ho ho ho - put in $100,000. OK, that's about what Mrs. Poulsen spends each year at The Greenery.

Demand for gift cards has soared since retailers began replacing paper certificates with plastic cards.

If you get a card worth $100, there will probably be a balance on the card after first use. You will very likely throw it away rather than going back to buy something that isn't needed. Retailers love this too.

Ontario and Manitoba have banned the expiry date on cards. Many other retailers have voluntarily eliminated the expiry date to protect cashiers from enraged shoppers armed with the sharp edge of an invalid card.

Canadian shoppers should think twice about buying gift cards despite new laws that limit the worst abuses, says the Consumers Association of Canada.

"We've always said you shouldn't touch them with a 40-foot pole. There have just been so many pitfalls with them," association president Bruce Cran said.

Cran said the association still gets 20 to 30 complaints a month about gift cards, mostly from people stuck with cards for stores that went out of business.

Thieves are getting into the gift card action. They spot gift cards with preloaded values displayed on racks in stores. The crooks read the code behind the magnetic strip with a hand-held scanner. Then they go online and buy stuff. When a shopper buys the card, it has been drained of its value.

Says Consumer Reports: "Buy a card kept behind a customer-service desk or ask the clerk to scan it to make sure it has the full value, check that the strip on the back looks new and keep the receipt."

All considered, I'd rather have a Canadian Tire gift card than another electronic device I can't work.

We have a new computer-controlled oven. Sagely, I bought it for myself last Christmas.

The only thing I've been able to do is set it to bake at 350. Roast settings remain a bad day on Mt. Everest.

I tried to roast a leg of lamb the other night. When the smoke alarm went off, the oven was at 500. I waited for the sirens as I did the usual towel-wave at the smoke detector.

I suspect people of my age yearn for the days of dials, knobs and anything that doesn't go beep.

My warmest holiday message to all young, smirking computer designers is: Beep off.

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