Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Consumer's Commercial Conundrum

Greg Harton has a good column in today's Northwest Arkansas Times about the scam of gift cards, a nifty marketing bonanza for retailers that nets them $8 billion a year from unredeemed cards. That's $8 billion for nothing, probably the most lucrative little swindle ever invented by the business and corporate purveyors of Christmas.

Harton's column, "The Gift that Keeps Giving (to Retailers)," points out that gift cards are a really bad deal for consumers, because they are often lost or only partially redeemed. At best they are an interest-free loan to the retail business, and at worst they force recipients to spend additional funds to get anything useful. "I used to believe cash was a crass gift, but it is preferable for the recipient to receive the full value of the intended gift than to watch a bank or retailer make off with all or a portion of the money," he advises.

Walter Hussman's advertising department at the NTWAT apparently didn't get Executive Editor Harton's memo. They are running their annual Reader's Choice Awards to endear themselves to local businesses and sell them newspaper advertising. The contest of commerce is just across the gutter on the adjoining page, actually touching the lower right corner of Harton's column explaining the dangers of gift certificates and cards. If you name your favorite business in each of about 80-something categories of advertisers ranging from chiropractors to mini-storage sheds to real estate agents, then mail in the buffo business ballot, you will have a chance to win one of the four valuable prizes offered by the newspaper -- a $50 Gift Certificate to one of the participating businesses advertisers.

Actions sometimes speak louder than words, especially when it involves the words and actions of corporate chain newspapers where advertisers speak louder than the news and editorial staff.

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