On Sept. 22, Smaaash go-carts at the Mall of America abruptly closed its doors. Based in India, the company has no other U.S. locations and left no forwarding information on how to contact it.
That left Randy Kraemer of Rosemount wondering if he had any recourse. "I'm sitting on a $100 gift card," he wrote in an e-mail. "How do I get a refund now that Smaaash@MOA is closed?"
That's a question that consumers need to be asking about any unused gift card, especially as more retailers and restaurants close their doors without warning, leaving consumers with a worthless piece of plastic.
We all know we should redeem gift cards quickly, so why don't we?
"People don't keep them handy," said Shelley Hunter, a gift card expert at Giftcards.com.
People should keep them next to the debit or credit cards they use most often or add them to their mobile wallet. "If you don't want to carry them around, put them by your computer so they're available when you're shopping online," she said.
Few consumers foresaw Smaaash's closing, even though scattered news reports mentioned that it was behind on payments to the Mall of America and the Minnesota Vikings. But retailers that have announced select store closings should put consumers on alert.
Rumors of Gander Mountain's bankruptcy started in March 2017, and people could still redeem its gift cards, but by May, the Gander Outdoors stores — which have a different owner as well as a different name — stopped accepting them. Now almost 40 of 200 Gander Outdoors stores, which emerged from Gander Mountain's bankruptcy, are in the process of closing nationwide. The Eden Prairie and Bemidji stores will close soon.
CreditRiskMonitor put Gander's parent company, Camping World, on a list of companies with a high chance of bankruptcy. Other retailers on the list? Christopher & Banks, J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, J.C. Penney, Pier 1 and Rite Aid.
Retailers with an elevated risk include Express, Francesca's, J. Jill, the Container Store, Kirkland's, Sears, GNC, At Home, and Build-A-Bear. Forever 21 recently filed for bankruptcy.
Even retailers that aren't on a bankruptcy watch list close stores, including Lowe's, Walmart, Target, CVS, and Walgreens, but Hunter said no gift card should collect dust in today's retail climate.
Restaurants are no different. National chains that have closed locations in 2019 include Famous Dave's, Applebee's, Noodles and Co., Tim Hortons, Papa John's, and Subway. Locally, Libertine, Revolution Hall, It's Greek to Me, Sporty's Pub & Grill, and Corner Table have closed.
This year, Boston Market closed its last Twin Cities locations in Bloomington and Roseville, leaving gift card holders stranded. When a company still has locations open in other cities, consumers can try selling theirs at a discount on sites such as Giftcardgranny, Cardpool and Raise.
Holders of Smaaash gift cards can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for a refund. Kraemer said he got a response from MOA, and Smaaash should be issuing his check soon. For retailers or restaurants that have already closed, Consumer Reports said it's difficult to collect.
It's better to use a gift card before a troubled retailer such as Sears or Camping World (Gander Outdoors) starts a companywide liquidation.
"Some people want to wait until the liquidation starts to max out the savings, but gift cards are often not accepted once the liquidation starts," Hunter said.
With the holidays approaching, redeeming gift cards now is a sound strategy because many retailers and restaurants give up the ghost in December and January if holiday sales disappoint.
For those with a dusty Toys 'R' Us gift card who are excited about the brand's return during the holiday season, you're still out of luck, Hunter said — you can't use old gift cards at the new stores or website.