Butch Welsch

The older I get, and according to relatives the more difficult to buy things for, the more often I receive gift cards. For example, I had a recent birthday, and now have to do my birthday shopping for myself with the gift cards I received. I guess it makes sense in that I can get what I want. It just seems to defeat the purpose of actually giving a gift. It’s like saying: “I was too lazy to really figure out what you wanted, so here go do it yourself.”

This example made me think about the whole issue of gift cards and even more as they apply to our business - coupons. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I am not very good about keeping track of gift cards, so I know there are a lot of merchants out there who have made significant money off of me because of gift cards I have lost and didn’t redeem. I have been trying to figure out a way that we could integrate the sale of gift cards into the culture of the HVAC business.

If any of you have already done it, please let me know and I will pass the information along to our readers. Unfortunately, as important as our items are for a homeowner’s comfort, our items are not very “exciting.” Does a gift certificate for a media filter or humidifier pad replacement get your blood boiling? I doubt it. Maybe we should just offer a gift certificate for a discount on a new system. We are probably going to give the sale of some of these a try and will pass along to you any successes we experience.

There is one thing I have learned through the years and that is how not to handle gift cards and coupons. To begin with, these items should be a thank you for a good customer or a method to encourage new customers to do business with you. As a result, I would think you would want to make the use of the item as easy as possible for the individual. Yet, are you aware that some gift cards actually have an expiration date?

What in the world is the idea behind that? They have the money with no expenditure until it is redeemed. Who cares if it’s five years from now? Is the business not going to be in need of new customers in five years; or are they no longer interested in thanking their customers? With some gift cards, the business actually reduces the value by a certain percentage each period of time it isn’t redeemed. Again - what are they thinking?


Let’s discuss a real pet peeve - coupons with an expiration date. This is a perfect example of how not to treat a customer. We belong to the buyer’s club for a well-known office supply chain. We receive periodic discount coupons both in the mail and online. We received a new set offering $15 off of any purchase in excess of $75.

Since we needed some items for a mailing, we decided to take advantage of the deal and get our items there. Unfortunately, unbeknown to us at the time, we still had last month’s coupons (which expired 5 days ago), but forgot to bring along the new coupons. We didn’t discover this until we had picked our items and were in line to check out. When we presented the five days expired coupon, the girl behind the counter said she couldn’t accept it. We explained that we had just received the new ones and inadvertently brought the wrong ones. We also gave our membership card to show that we are in fact regular customers. And by the way, our basket of items totaled $180.

When the girl couldn’t help us, I asked to see the manager. He came over and just by his attitude I knew we were in trouble. He quickly said “no” he couldn’t honor the coupon because it expired five days ago.

But here is the best part - what he said next.

“I typically give four days grace on an expired coupon, so sorry, you are one day late!” Although he said that almost with a sly smile, his smile was gone when we said “well you can keep your stuff, we’ll go down the street.” We left the stuff in the basket and walked out, never to return!

This major national chain was spending the money to print and mail coupons; to have a buyer’s club; yet by showing very poor judgment, their store manager had undone more goodwill than all of their other expenditures had built.

I assure you, we don’t have an expiration date on our coupons, and if we can work out gift certificates, those won’t expire either!

Publication date:11/23/2009