First-ever ‘Use Your Gift Cards’ holiday coming Saturday

Retailers, consumer groups say $1 billion goes unspent each year

Now that Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday are all in our collective rear-view mirrors, welcome to America’s newest shopping holiday — and this one may be the most consumer-friendly of the bunch.

This Saturday will mark the first-ever National Use Your Gift Card Day, a nudge to consumers to “Celebrate the Present” they may have received over the holidays rather than allowing their gift cards to potentially diminish in value and eventually expire. An estimated $1 billion in gift cards go unused each year

“Gift cards have never had their own day,” Tracy Tilson, founder of National Use Your Gift Card Day and of its web site, The founder of Tilson PR public-relations firm in south Florida registered the web site and trademarked the name after finding three expired gift cards stashed away in her wallet.

The National Retail Federation estimated that consumers planned to purchase three or four gift cards with an average credit of $47, for a total of $27.5 billion during the just-completed holiday season. Tilson said her web site will help remind consumers to use their gift cards or to consider donating them before they end up in the bottom of drawers and the back of wallets.

“We all do it,” Tilson said in a release “We receive gift cards that were at the top of our wish lists for the holidays with every intention to use them, and then they’re forgotten. National Use Your Gift Card Day is a reminder for consumers to use their gift cards so not a single dollar goes unspent.” has been recognized by the 2020 edition of Chase’s Calendar of Events as well as the Registrar at National Day Calendar proclaiming National Use Your Gift Card Day to be observed on the third Saturday in January, annually.

The effort is partnering with merchants and restaurants to help remind their customers.

“They see it as potentially another shopping holiday,” Tilson said. Surveys show that consumers usually spend over and above the value of a gift card when they go shopping with card in hand. Plus, Tilson said, “It’s a great way to build brand loyalty.”

Some retailers are going a step further, creating special incentives around the new Use Your Gift Card holiday. “rue 21,” which has five locations throughout the Miami Valley, is offering 15 percent off purchases made with a gift card from Jan. 18-26. Fellow clothing retailer Life Is Good is offering 10 percent off of purchases made with a gift card.

John North, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Dayton and the Miami Valley, said the large amount of unused gift cards “is no surprise given that they are a popular gift for any occasion. Lost, misplaced and forgotten cards can add up quickly. Some consumers make an initial purchase and then forget and may even leave small amounts of dollars on the card. Those small amounts can add up as well.”

North said his office has received complaints related to gift cards being declined and then trouble getting a new gift card with the correct amount on it.

“Some gift cards have fees associated with them,” North said. “These fees could be monthly, or they could be related to each transaction. Many people do not read the fine print and are unaware of these fees. Some individuals allow their gift card to expire and when they go to use it they find it has been declined.”

And the BBB president’s advice for those who hold gift cards? “Spend the card immediately,” North said. “The most common reason a card goes unused is because it’s lost or misplaced.”

The self-described consumer warrior Clark Howard says the volatile retail landscape, with many retailers shutting down stores and perhaps flirting with bankruptcy, provides even more incentive to use gift cards quickly.

“There’s a real risk to you that a restaurant or retailer will go bust before you get a chance to use their gift card,” Howard wrote on his web site. “In that case, you’re out the money. … If you get a gift card for any occasion, you should treat it like a hot potato: Get it out of your wallet as soon as possible by using it.”

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