TORONTO — Canada’s oldest retailer, The Hudson’s Bay Company, announced this week it will allow consumers to trade in gift cards from other stores in order to make purchases at the Bay.
Under its Gift Card Advantage program, Hudson’s Bay customers will receive an offer for the cards they want to trade in, said Tiffany Bourré, the company’s director of external communications.
“This program will be a first in the Canadian marketplace, as current exchange programs only offer a prorated cash equivalent,” Bourré told Global News.
The retailer’s program is being managed by CardSwap, Canada’s most prominent gift card swapping business.
“The gift card industry is worth $8 billion now,” said Frances Ho, president of CardSwap.
Her Toronto-based company allows consumers to trade in cards they don’t want in exchange for cash; it also allows consumers to buy gift cards for desired retailers for less than full market value.
Popular cards, such as ones for grocery and gasoline, offer the lowest discounts while specialty store cards represent a better deal.
“You come to our site, have the gift cards with you, and you’re going to get an offer for the gift card right there on the spot,” she said.
“Fill in your information, mail us your cards and then we send you a cheque.”
Gift cards, however, aren’t always redeemable where you think they should be.
For example, a Global News cameraman attempted to use a Tim Hortons gift card at an Esso On the Run location, a gas station that sells coffee, donuts and other products.
“About a third of the On the Run convenience stores that offer Tim Hortons coffee and/or products are not integrated with the Tim Hortons point-of-sale system,” said Killeen Kelly, spokesperson for Imperial Oil in Calgary.
“Customer loyalty is paramount to our business and we regret the inconvenience this may cause consumers.”
Gift cards are growing in popularity with gift givers and with scammers alike.
“You can walk into any supermarket or drug store and write down the gift card numbers, wait for a legitimate person to purchase them and now they’re activated,” said Tony Martin-Vegue, a cyber security researcher based in San Francisco.
“You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to steal gift card numbers.”
Martin-Vegue says many kinds of gift cards are paid for with stolen credit cards.
When credit card companies discover they were inappropriately acquired, they are frequently shut down quickly and have no value.
He says consumers should avoid buying discounted gift cards on sites like Kijijii and eBay, where they are frequently offered at pennies on the dollar by sellers.
Martin-Vegue says he advises retailers to place cards behind counters and away from customers’ reach. But he says that approach discourages sales of gift cards.
His advice? Never buy gift cards that are sold in the open and more at risk of being compromised.