by Alex Palmer | January 17, 2017

The convenience, flexibility, and impact of gift cards as incentive rewards and gifts are a few of the reasons why this segment continues to grow every year. But gift cards also present plenty of points of concern that buyers should be aware of before they decide to make a purchase. This was a note of caution from the Better Business Bureau, which late last month released a list of tips buyers should keep in mind when purchasing gift cards -- not just during the holidays, but all year long. 

First on the nonprofit organization's list of must-do tips is to research before buying.

To start with, the Bureau warns that the best place to buy a gift card is direct from the issuer, which in the incentive market means either an authorized special markets reseller or from the retailer's own incentive/special markets sales agent. It added that buyers "can also research businesses at bbb.org to see a company's BBB Business Profile, which includes its history of complaints and customer reviews." 

It recommended avoiding discount and online auction sites, as there is a higher chance that cards there might be counterfeit or stolen.  

Next the BBB urged that buyers "read the fine print," and fully understand how the card works and how it might differ from other cards. 

"Find out if there are any fees associated with buying or using the card and if any fees will be deducted from the card after it is purchased," said the Bureau. While federal law requires that gift cards not have an expiration date of less than five years, there is an exception for cards given out as promotions, which can expire in order to push users to take action within a set period. Very few cards directly targeting the incentive industry come with monthly fees that can drain value.

"Know the terms," "Check the date," and "Use before you lose" were additional points to keep in mind, from the Bureau. Its final point to buyers and recipients is to "treat your card like cash." The organization wrote: "If your card is lost or stolen, report it to the issuer immediately. You may not recover any of the value that was on the card. Some issuers will not replace cards that are lost or stolen, but other issuers may, for a fee."

That applies to incentive managers giving out the cards as well as to the recipients. If you are running a employee recognition and engagement  programs that uses physical cards rather than e-cards to reward employees on the spot for positive behaviors, realize that a manager's desk drawer full of gift cards is a security risk. A number of gift-card resellers' incentive/special markets divisions are able to supply blank gift cards that can be activated online just before they are handed out.