Lessons Learned

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

I’ve been a pretty staunch supporter of gift cards in the past, despite a growing chorus of critics.

But I did learn something this year: Don’t mail them. And if you do, don’t mail three of them in the same package. Because some asshole may get into the mail, open the envelope, and steal them before they can get to the people for whom they were intended.

Yes. This happened to me. Three gift cards taken out of the mail. My family got the open, empty envelope yesterday. My best guess is that it was someone inside the post office (yay, U.S. Mail!). Here’s why: I dropped the package off at a curbside mailbox in Alexandria, Virginia on the 23rd. I remember checking the box. I dropped them off at around 4, and the next pick up was an hour later. I doubt anyone would have been able to break into a mailbox on a busy street in Alexandria in broad daylight.

Best Buy tells me that one of the gift cards was then used at one of the companies Fairfax, Virginia stores on the 24th. That means it never made it out of the region. Had to have come from the post office, unless the mailman dropped the package. My first thought was that someone swiped the package out of my parents’ mailbox. But it never go that far.

In any case, it did provide an opportunity to compare the customer service departments at the three places where I bought gift cards:

Best Buy: Very helpful, but only after a 30 minute wait time on the phone. Once I did get through, though, they were great. They promised to cancel the card if it hadn’t yet been used. Unfortunately, it had. As I mentioned, they told me exactly what store it was used at, and what the cretin bought (Madden 2006 for the Playstation 3, and a set of headphones). The customer service rep was helpful and courteous.

Target: The doofus hadn’t used this one yet. Wait time was brief, but the service guy and I had something of a language barrier to overcome. They canceled the card, but couldn’t charge the amount back to my credit card, which I would think would be a rather easy thing to do. Instead, I have to send the receipt, my address, phone number, email, confirmation number, and a description of what happened to an office in Minneapolis, after which it will be reviewed and, if approved, they’ll send me a new gift card (through the mail!) for the same amount in 8 to 10 business days. I asked if they could flag the card, and nail the guy if he tries to use it. Alas, this wasn’t an option.

Barnes and Noble: B&N really needs some help with its help line. I called the store first, who told me there was nothing they could do, then referred me to a toll free line. The first woman on the toll free line transferred me to another department, at which point I was cut off. I called back. The second woman transfered me to the “gift card department.” They told me that Barnes and Noble isn’t able to cancel gift cards, and that I was just out of luck. That sounded absurd, so I asked to speak to a supervisor.

The supervisor confirmed the no cancellation policy. I said that either (a) was wrong, or (b) was a stupid policy. I asked for a Barnes and Noble corporate address where I could write to complain. She replied that — get this — there was no address. That is, if you have a complaint with Barnes and Noble, there is no address to where you might send the letter.

I called back a third time, thinking a new operator might be more helpful. The third guy told me to go back to the store where I bought the card. That seemed like a waste, given that calling that very store was my first step. Frustrated, I gave it a shot anyway.

Behold! The manager of the Barnes and Noble said that yes, they can and do cancel gift cards. In fact, she found that the stolen card hadn’t yet been used (my thief must’ve been an amateur), and issued me a new one in about 15 minutes. Which means that the people the company hires to man its help lines have no idea what the hell they’re talking about.

Best Buy comes out looking the best in all of this. Target’s help guy was good, but the policy is something of a hassle. Barnes and Noble’s help line gets an “F,” and the customer service rep in the store also gets an “F,” but the manager was terrific once I finally got to her.

Make of this what you will, and shop accordingly. But don’t send gift cards through the mail. Good news is, once Target gets back to me, I’ll only be out one of the three cards.

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