Gift cards are big business! Gift card sales were $110 Billion in the USA for 2012 and that figure is expected to rise to $150 Billion by 2015. In Canada, 1.5% of the value all retail sales are paid for using gift cards, which is crazy when you think about the convenience of paying with debit and the rewards that accompany paying with credit.
Retailers love gift cards for many reasons:
- They are the perfect easy gift for any occasion.
- It increases their brand exposure whenever one is purchased for someone else.
- Quite a few of them get lost or go unredeemed, which is pure profit for the retailer.
- It’s a perfect add-on sale to any transaction because it ensures a repeat visit to your store in the near future.
- They can easily be used for contests, giveaways, and as a gift with purchase.
- Every gift card sold is like a free no interest loan for the retailer. They get to use the consumers money for an indefinite amount of time for whatever purpose they want until the gift card is redeemed later.
However, there’s a big reason for consumers to love gift cards as well and it isn’t because they are an easy gift giving idea – it’s because they can often be purchased at a discount! If you know what you are doing, you can use gift cards to save a lot of money on your everyday purchases.
I recently wrote an article about ways to save on gas, and using discounted gift cards is one of the ways I recommend to do that. However, using cheap gift cards applies to way more than just gasoline purchases because pretty much every big name retailer offers them now.
Finding discounted gift cards can take some work, especially for stores that sell necessities like groceries, but fortunately there are many ways to do it. Here are your options:
Cash back using gift card malls
The easiest way to get discounted gift cards is by using your cash back credit card to purchase gift cards at a store with a gift card mall that also gives you bonus cash back on your credit card.
For example, the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite gives you 4% cash back on gas and groceries. Therefore, you can walk into your nearest grocery store or gas bar, buy a gift card to store XYZ, and presto! You’ve now taken your 4% bonus that is supposed to only be useable at gas and grocery stores and opened it up to any store available at the gift card mall.
Doing a home reno? No problem, get 4% off through buying Home Depot gift cards first.
Going for a nice anniversary dinner? Excellent! Just pick up a Keg gift card at the gas station on the way and your dinner becomes that much cheaper.
RedFlagDeals gift card forum
It’s pretty common for people to receive a gift card they have absolutely no use for. I’m sure you’ve been there: you’re a single guy and somehow you’ve wound up with a $50 gift card for La Senza and you’re just not that into cross dressing. What’s a guy to do?
Thankfully, RedFlagDeals has a forum dedicated to buying and selling gift cards. If you live in an urban centre, this is probably the best place to get gift cards at a good discount in Canada. I saw Canadian Tire cards being sold at a 12% discount today when I checked (hello, 12% off gas!).
You do have to be careful not to get scammed when buying used gift cards, but they do have what is known as Buy Sell Trade Feedback (or BST for short) that gives you a good idea if the person you are buying from can be trusted.
Warning: Make sure you verify the balance on any used gift card you buy to make sure you aren’t getting scammed!
Costco is a great place to look for discounted gift cards. They are able to offer such a large volume of sales to restaurants and local retailers that they are able to sell them much cheaper, typically 20% cheaper actually.
You can buy their discounted cards both online and at your local warehouse. Here is a list of all the discounted cards available online.
Locally, the types of cards available varies by city and is often customized to your region. For instance, my local warehouse sells gift cards for several popular restaurants in the area along with the standard discounted Cineplex movie tickets that are available pretty much nationwide.
Some brands regularly run discounts through their retail partners on their gift cards ranging from 10 to 20% off.
iTunes is one of the biggest to do this, which is great if you’re already an Apple ecosystem user because you can save up to 20% on your music, movies, apps, and tv series. There is a long thread over at RedFlagDeals that is always up to date with the latest deals.
I’ve also seen Google Play run similar discounts and Rexall recently ran a promotion giving 20% off gift cards to Marks Work Wearhouse, American Eagle, Roots, and La Vie en Rose.
Gift card swapping sites
Cardswap is a Canadian site specifically dedicated to letting people sell their old gift cards. They do all the work of verifying the balance and then you get paid a percentage of the gift card purchase price in swap rewards which you can use to buy more gift cards.
You won’t see a very large discount on popular gift cards because they are in such high demand, but for less popular places discounts can be as high as 20%. For example, gas stations like Petro Canada and Esso are typically about 2% off while unknown stores like Swimco are 16.5% off.
Another similar site is Gift Card Granny. They aren’t as well known so their gift card inventory is smaller, but the discounts seem to be higher. I think this site started out in the USA and expanded into Canada.
There are other Canadian sites out there too, like Gift Cards Wild, but they are lesser known so you might want to start with a small purchase first to make sure your gift card comes through problem free.
eBay is another great place to find people looking to sell unwanted gift cards and coupons. In fact, I just bought a gift card for a 37.5% discount at Starbucks off eBay while writing this. It’s actually my first time buying one from eBay, so I’ll report back in the comments how the transaction went once I receive the gift card.
Buying on eBay can seem risky, but if you pay by PayPal then you are covered through their buyer protection program. I’ve purchased hundreds of items on eBay, always ensuring I purchase from sellers with good feedback, and I’ve yet to have a problem that wasn’t easily fixed.
Just type in “gift card” or “(store name) gift card” in the eBay search box to see what’s available.
Group buy websites
It’s rare, but when a group buy website like Groupon or nCrowd (formerly Teambuy and DealFind) wants to promote themselves and get noticed by a lot of people, they will sometimes offer a really good deal on gift cards. One time Teambuy sold $25 Shell gift cards for 50% off. My family and I were able to buy 6 of them for a total of $75 in gas savings.
If you do buy a voucher form one of these sites, I suggest you don’t hold on to it but use it right away to protect yourself against them going out of business. It doesn’t happen very often, but it does still happen. If they go into bankruptcy, they will not honour their outstanding coupons.
Shoppers Drug Mart bonus points
Shoppers Drug Mart routinely runs gift card promotions, especially around Christmas time, where if you buy $X in gift cards to one of a whole array of stores from their gift card mall, they will give you Y points for free.
For instance, this year from Nov. 8 to Nov. 14, they offered 8,000 Optimum points for a purchase of 2 or more gift cards totalling $200.
8,000 points is worth $14 when redeemed at the highest redemption level (95,000 points = $170 in free stuff). If you wait for a super bonus redemption day to spend your points, then those same 8,000 points become worth $18.50. That’s a 9.26% discount.
While this discount might not seem huge, it’s great for purchases you have to make regardless like gas (they sell both Esso, Petro Canada, and Canadian Tire gift cards).
Buy a card, get a bonus
Many stores offer a special bonus when you buy a gift card, particularly during the holiday season. They want to reward you for buying your gift for another person at their store. Here are a few examples I’ve seen:
- Subway runs a buy a $25 gift card and get a free 6-inch sub promotion at least once a year and I’ve seen similar deals at Pita Pit.
- Cineplex has a yearly holiday promotion where you get a load of valuable coupons when you buy a gift card.
- Here’s a big list of similar deals, unfortunately most of them are only available in the USA.
This is great when you’re buying a gift for another person, but if it’s a store you regularly shop at you might as well just buy it for yourself!
Last year I bought a Cineplex gift card to get the coupons, then I used the gift card to take advantage of their crazy Black Friday sale where all digital download movies were buy 1 get 1 free in addition to 2,250 bonus scene points. 1,000 scene points is worth a free movie ticket at the cinema (including 3D and IMAX). I still have 6,000 scene points left over from that deal 1 year later and have been watching free movies all year!
Gift card with purchase
Retailers don’t want you to visit their store once, they want you to shop there again and again. An easy way to ensure that happens is to offer you a valuable gift with your purchase that is only redeemable in the future.
At first, many places would offer actual gift cards when you made a minimum purchase that day, but eventually most have transitioned to discount coupons or faux gift cards that have a short expiry date or small purchase window.
- Carters & OshKosh regularly gift a bonus gift card or certificate with a minimum purchase. I’ve also seen similar deals at many other clothes retailers.
- Canadian Tire often has scratch cards or special offers in their flyer that give you a discount off your next purchase.
- Shoppers Drug Mart regularly offers gift cards to their own stores, Tim Hortons, Petro Canada, and more for making a $50 or $75 purchase on a special day.
- The possibilities with this are endless, you just have to keep your eyes and ears open.
Buy another gift card with your gift card
We all have an unwanted gift card lying around the house sometimes that we just aren’t sure what to do with. Other times you might spot an opportunity to score a gift card for a store you don’t really like at a big discount.
Here’s what you do: check if that store sells gift cards for other stores. If they do, you’re in luck, then you can try using the first card to buy another one for a store you really like.
A word of caution though – not all stores will allow you to use one gift card to buy another gift card – so make sure you ask your local store before you attempt doing this.
Buy gift cards with Canadian Tire Money
Many rewards program won’t let you buy gift cards with your points unless they offer gift cards as part of their rewards program, like Air Miles. However, Canadian Tire is an exception in that they will let you buy a Canadian Tire gift card with Canadian Tire Money.
Why would you want to do this? Primarily because gift cards are more flexible and easy to carry around than Canadian Tire money, although they are taking steps to improve the program.
The main benefit though is you can purchase gas with gift cards, but not Canadian Tire money. In addition they treat gift cards as cash, so you can earn more Canadian Tire money on the gas you buy with it.
Love ’em or hate ’em?
What’s your take on gift cards – do you love them or hate them? Have you ever thought of them as a tool to save money before?
About the Author: Stephen Weyman is passionate about saving money and writes practical guides to help you save money on everything you buy and do over at HowToSaveMoney.ca.