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Published: Saturday, 1/3/2009

Stores courting gift-cardholders

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Culture Clash owner Pat O'Connor shows off gift cards from competitors that he accepts. Culture Clash owner Pat O'Connor shows off gift cards from competitors that he accepts.
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge | Buy This Photo

With retail gift cards losing part of their luster the past holiday season, some Toledo retailers are trying to woo new customers by accepting their competitors' gift cards.

For the fourth year, Culture Clash, a Toledo store that sells CDs, records, and pop culture merchandise, is accepting gift cards of other retailers on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

Meanwhile, the Appliance Center in Maumee is accepting gift cards, at 50 percent of their value, from Circuit City Inc., which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November and plans to close 155 stores nationwide.

Both retailers said their aim is to win new customers, but also promote the merits of shopping with local retailers.

"We feel it's a good way to initiate the public into buying local," said Pat O'Connor, Culture Clash owner.

The record store's gift card swap program has some caveats: the gift card must be from a chain retailer which sells CDs or records, the card's value must be verifiable via telephone or the Internet, the gift card must not expire for six months, and the card cannot be from a retailer in bankruptcy.

That would exclude Circuit City cards.

But thus far, Mr. O'Connor said about 40 customers have brought in cards to exchange from Best Buy, Target, and Barnes & Noble. Those who exchange are usually looking to buy vinyl records or music those chain retailers do not carry, he added.

He redeems the cards he gets or sometimes "gets stuck with them."

At the Appliance Center, general manager Jim Grzywinski said about a dozen customers have brought in Circuit City gift cards thus far and redeemed them for half-value.

"It's started to work out. Since they've filed Chapter 11, a lot of people have told us if they don't use 'em they know they'll be able to get something from us," he said.

"Everybody's looking for new business, so by doing this people who maybe don't shop with us normally will give us a chance."

With several retailers such as Linen & Things and KB Toys announcing before Christmas that they were liquidating, consumers were wary of gift cards this holiday season.

Sales of post-Christmas presents from gift cards are projected to fall 12 percent to $61 billion from $70 billion a year ago, the first-ever decline since stores began issuing gift cards a decade ago, according to the retail research firm TowerGroup.

Circuit City has said it intends to continue honoring its gift cards, but Kathy Grannis, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation, said customer doubt about gift cards has opened the door for competitors.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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