COMMENT: Local book retailer Angus & Robertson is using technology to deny customers access to plastic gift card credits for books, 12 months after they have been issued. But if you buy a printed gift card voucher there are no restrictions.The situation came to light when I recently went to cash in two credit card vouchers from Angus & Robertson; one was a $50 printed voucher, the other was a plastic credit card voucher. When I came to do the transaction, the plastic gift card was denied, with the shop assistant claiming that it was because of the technology being used by A&R. The printed paper gift card was honoured despite the two gift cards being purchased from the same A&R Brisbane outlet.
My daughter, who had purchased the credit cards, claims that she was never made aware that the plastic gift card she was purchasing was time stamped with an expiry date 12 months after purchase.
When I asked the A&R assistant in Sydney why the card was restricted and the printed vouchers open ended, she said, “It has to do with technology and our databases. There was also a period when the future of Angus & Robertson was under question, and I think the company wanted to control their gift card liabilities. We have lots of complaints”.
When she was asked what risks there were for A&R who on one hand was prepared to take cash from consumers and then not offer the same value in books when the gift card was redeemed, she said, “A lot of staff are not happy with the situation. Head office is very inflexible on this issue but we have to handle the complaints”.
Calls to the company have not been returned.
This is the same company that is selling books online and in store at almost double the price of what the same book can be purchased for online at Amazon.com.
For example the new Lynda La Plante book, Silent Scream, is available at Amazon for US $12.54 or A$13.68. Shipping is $4.75, making the total landed cost in Australia $18. The same book in store at Angus & Robertson is $35.
Online the same book is $10 dearer than the US price of $18.
An inspection of A&R marketing fails to make clear to buyers that they are buying a gift card that has restricted conditions.
In my daughter’s case, she said that she purchased the card in the belief that it was an open-ended transaction. At the time, she was not made aware that there were conditions on the card, as the cashier simply sold the card and placed it in a gift envelope.
It appears that this is a retailer who is blatantly using technology to deny consumers a fair and proper process. It knows that a lot of its gift cards are not going to be retrieved or will go past their expiry date.
From a cash-flow perspective, this is fantastic for them.
In my case my daughter, who is young, had saved up money to buy her father gift vouchers, which I chose not to use immediately. I was also unaware that they had an expiry date.
When I did choose to use the gift cards, I was denied a purchase to the value of the gift card for no logical reason other than it suits A&R.
In Australia the book industry is rorting consumers and the simple extension of the A&R plastic gift cards past 12 months would be a big benefit to customers; however A&R is not interested in customers getting either their money’s worth or a good customer experience. Technically there is no logical reason for A&R gift cards to be restricted.
Once sold, the card number is entered into a database. Also entered is a secret number that is scratched off when the card is redeemed.
In my opinion, the ACCC and Fair Trading should step in to legislate against this practise, because a book gift card is in essence a currency based on the money paid by the buyer. What A&R is doing is putting cash flow first a good customer experience a poor second.
I for one buy thousands of dollars worth of books a year. However, I doubt that I want to go back to Angus & Robertson.