A reader named Ellen emailed me this warning:
Hi Julia: I know you’ve addressed the subject of gift cards but I wanted to give you and your fans a warning: Watch out for gift cards to stores that have gone under! The other day I was in 7-11, which sells a variety of retail gift cards. Well, my eyes popped out when I saw a display for Circuit City! That retailer has been out of business for quite some time. I was going to alert the management but for some reason chickened out. However, next time I’m in there, I will definitely do so, if only as a duty to the customers.
As it turns out, Circuit City still operates an online electronics store under new ownership, so Ellen’s worry was unfounded. However, Ellen brings up a good point. In this ridiculously tough economy when market forces, natural disasters, and new spending habits are re-shaping the face of American and international businesses, it is wise to doublecheck that the company you want to do business with is still IN business.
The best thing to do is call the business and see if someone picks up the phone, especially if you are considering buying a gift card through a third party. If you are in a store and want to know if it is on the brink, look for these signs while shopping.
Another useful tool is a Wikipedia page of businesses that have failed. This list is not foolproof nor does it indicate that the company is not still operating in some form or fashion, like Circuit City. The list includes national and regional businesses, but not local ones. It is a good starting place if you are researching the solvency of a company you want to do business with.