Predictably and perhaps tragically news that HMV vouchers are to be accepted has been greeted with near-universal acclaim across the web.
Of course, it’s great that thousands of people aren’t now going to be fleeced, but the administrators’ u-turn risks that the justifiable anger expressed over the past week will quickly vanish, at least until the next time a retailer goes tits-up and those little plastic cards again become worthless.
If HMV hadn’t u-turned there’s a good chance they’d have done lasting damage to the whole concept of gift cards, and there’s a part of me which thinks that would have been a good thing.
When a customer buys a gift card they’re handing over perfectly good cash, with no restrictions on where and when it can be spent, for a promise that one day the retailer will let them swap a slice of plastic for some merchandise.
The retailer meanwhile gets to bank the cash and mark it down as a sale which, because no stock has been handed over in return, is almost entirely profit.
The problem is that the promise isn’t guaranteed, it can be revoked by administrators, receivers and even, in some cases, new owners.
How did we ever allow such a one sided customer/retailer arrangement to become commonplace on our high streets?
When holiday makers starting finding their foreign trips now weren’t going to happen and they’d lost their money, the authorities set up the ATOL consumer protection scheme.
If your registered travel agent goes bust before or after you leave the UK, the scheme ensures you don’t lose a penny and gets you home safely.
Why isn’t there similar protection for consumers handing over cash in the expectation that the retailer will still be trading when they want to trade in that little card for something more desirable?