Worst 5 Retail Gift Cards

Rules and Fees Make These Cards a Poor Choice of Gift

Last-minute, desperate gift card purchasers do not take the time to read the fine print on gift card terms and conditions. But they should, because the card rules, fees, terms, and conditions can make some retail cards a bad choice as a last-minute gift alternative.  ​

Gift Card Cash Redemptions 

In some states, the laws require that gift cards be redeemed for cash upon a customer's request when the balance on the card is below a certain value. According to GiftCards.com, the states with gift card cash redemption requirements and the value for cash redemption in those states are:

  • California ($10)
  • Colorado ($5 or less)
  • Maine (Less than $5)
  • Massachusetts (Non-reloadable cards: Less than 10% of the Value $5.00; Reloadable: Less than $5)
  • New Jersey (Less than $5)
  • Oregon (Less than $5)
  • Rhode Island (Less than $1)
  • Vermont (Less than $1)
  • Washington (Less than $5)

Despite mandated rules and regulated fees, some of the largest U.S. retail chains that sell and redeem gift cards have terms and conditions far from ideal for the gift card recipients. This reflects poorly on the gift card giver. 

Avoid Buying Gift Cards From Grocery Stores

Regulations enacted in October 2015 are enough to dissuade most from purchasing the gift cards displayed in grocery stores and supermarkets. Specifically, the reason is EMV liability shift.

EMV liability shift is a set of rules enacted by big credit card processors such as Visa and American Express. The rules make merchants who accept credit card payments liable for any fraudulent transactions that are processed without EMV chip technology at their payment processing terminals.

If a gift card is purchased with a credit card and the credit card transaction is not processed with EMV technology,  the grocery merchant who sold the credit card is liable for the full amount of the gift card. That means if a gift card is purchased from a grocery store with a fraudulent credit card, and the gift card is gifted, the grocery store will get a chargeback from the bank for the full value of the fraudulent transaction.

Not all of the largest U.S. grocery retailers have EMV chip technology, and those that do not are liable for fraudulent gift card transactions. So, as a result of this liability shift, many grocery retailers are now requiring that gift cards be purchased for cash.

Almost all merchants in the U.S. retail industry have a rule that gift cards that were purchased for cash will not be replaced if they are lost or stolen. This no replacement rule applies even if the gift card user has a receipt and even if the gift card user has the unique gift card number. No replacements, no matter what with cash transactions.

So, you can't purchase gift cards unless you pay cash, and you can't get the gift card replaced if it was purchased for cash. 

eBay Gift Card Rules Are The Worst

If you are the (un)lucky recipient of an eBay gift card, you can look forward to a hassle-filled redemption process governed by the kind of ultra-controlling rules for which eBay has become (in)famous.

  • The maximum value of an eBay gift card is $200, and the total amount of gift card credit that can be redeemed in a single purchase is $1,000. Why? Because eBay said so.
  • In order to use the eBay gift card, the recipient must have both an eBay account and a PayPal account. A PayPal account requires that the recipient to either have a credit card or be willing to provide PayPal with complete access to a bank checking account.  
  • Both your eBay account and shipping address must be in the United States or you cannot use the gift card.
  • If the eBay gift card is used at all, it is locked into the eBay and PayPal accounts forever. That means that the eBay gift card is completely nontransferable and cannot be sold on any gift card resale marketplace.
  • You cannot purchase another gift card if you want to pay for any portion of your purchase with a gift card. In other words, you will have to remove any gift cards from your shopping cart before you'll be able to complete a payment using a gift card.  

As with all eBay customer unfriendly hassle-filled policies, eBay claims that security is the reason for their strict rules. In general, the eBay gift card is not a good retail gift card option.

Ross Dress for Less Gift Cards Lack Technology

Similar to H&M, the Ross Dress for Less gift card lacks the technological support necessary to make it user-friendly to the average omnichannel customer. This is not surprising because Ross is just about the only chain in the U.S. retail industry not to have an ecommerce website.  

  • There are no egift cards or mobile gift cards available for Ross stores. You will be charged postage if you order a physical gift card online and have it mailed to you or your gift recipient.
  • There are no replacements if you lose your Ross Dress for Less Gift Card, even if you have your original receipt.   
  • You can't use your gift card for online purchases since gifts cards are the only things you can purchase on the RossStores.com website.
  • The gift card can only be used for the original amount purchased. There is no reloading or ongoing functionality possible with this gift card.

Lack of Online and In-store Integration for H&M Gift Cards

Although H&M is one of the largest retail chains in Sweden and is taking global retail markets by storm, it seems to be lagging far behind the largest U.S. retail chains with its gift cards. To H&M's tech-savvy millennial customer base, the lack of seamless integration between online and in-store gift card functions is striking.

Much like Ross Stores, H&M lacks the technical infrastructure to provide U.S. gift card users the kind of gift card experience they have come to expect  Unlike Ross Stores, however, H&M does have an internet shopping website. Where H&M cards are concerned:

  • You can only purchase physical plastic gift cards, and there are no online or mobile egift card options. Physical gift cards cannot be used for online purchases.
  • Gift cards can be canceled before they are shipped, but not after they are shipped, even if they are never used.
  • You cannot reload your gift card unless it still has a balance, and you cannot reload gift cards online or on your mobile phone. You can only reload the card inside an H&M store at the cash register.
  • If your card balance is $0.00, you will have go to an H&M store and purchase a brand new gift card.  

Walmart Gift Card Fees Won't Let You Save Money or Live Better

From the retail company that's all about "saving money and living better," Walmart has the highest fees associated with its gift cards of any major U.S. retail chain. Walmart's gift card fees and policies include: 

  • Lost or stolen cards will not be replaced.
  • If your card does not have a PIN, you can use it only in a Walmart store or Sam's Club.
  • Without a PIN, you cannot check the balance of a Walmart Gift Card, but you can trade it in for a new card with a PIN at any local Walmart store or Sam's Club in the United States.
  • Walmart gift cards and egift cards can be used at Walmart stores, on Walmart.com, at Walmart and Sam's Club gas stations, in Sam's Club Stores, at Samsclub.com and on Vudu.com  If the gift card user is not a Sam's Club member, a 10 percent surcharge will be added to all purchases. In order to use the gift card on Vudu.com, the gift card user will have to open a Vudu account. Only physical plastic gift cards can be used at gas stations.
  • Walmart gift cards have no cash value and are not returnable or refundable except where state law requires it.
  • If the Walmart gift cards are purchased in a bulk order of 25 cards or more, or if the total value of the purchaser's gift card order is more than $250, the purchaser will have to activate each of the gift cards before gifting them or they cannot be used by the gift card recipient.