It's On the Market, You're On the Price List

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I'd been wondering how Michigan was going to pull its way out of what has been, for a few years now, a one-state recession. The answer:

A new state law gives consumers more rights when it comes to gift cards and certificates… Under the new rules, gift cards are good for five years. Retailers can no longer charge an inactivity or other service fee to consumers using or possessing gift certificates. They must also accept gift certificates during a sale, closing or liquidation and disclose all terms and conditions to prospective purchasers.

And if you don't comply?

Retailers violating the law could be on the hook for $250 in fines or actual damages, whichever is higher.

Consumers can file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General's Office or can pursue matters with their own attorney. Retailers must also cover attorney fees, if fined.

A bed and breakfast spokesperson quoted by the Grand Rapids Press thinks it'll be great for business, as it frees them from consumer terrorism after the five years run out. But if Michigan's legislators really care about consumers, why just five years? Why not 10? Why not make them redeemable until we break ground on the Moon colony?

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  1. In a huge surprise, I’ve been seeing a lot of Michigan plates around Houston.

  2. The obvious question to be asked from Dave’s post: Who the hell would go to a B&B in Michigan?

  3. Michigan should impose wage and price controls. That will help.

    And maybe build a new football stadium.

  4. Hmm, I guess it’s cool, but tell me again: why do people trade regular money for money you can only spend in one place that has an expiration date?

  5. Because it’s a gift, Lamar! Giving people cash is so gauche.

  6. Dave,

    Please send me evenings and weekends.

  7. Dave Weigel-

    I’ve just been reading about Norman Braman’s lawsuit against Miami’s grandiose “megaplan” which includes a new baseball stadium for the (soon-to-be?) Miami Marlins. No specific mention of Eminent Domain in the articles I saw, but it seems unlikely they can do it without some serious land-grabbing.

    How about a post?

  8. If gift cards were backed by gold we wouldn’t be having these issues.

  9. Its nice to get cards to stores you can’t buy anything useful at; that way you don’t feel guilty buying stuff you want but don’t need. You get cash, you start planning to save it or pay the electric bill. Not fun.

  10. Why not make them redeemable until we break ground on the Moon colony?

    So fewer then 5 years then?

  11. I loved living in the Grand Rapids area. Lack of employment drove me from it. East Michigan lives and dies with the auto industry, and the economy of East Michigan tends to dominate the state. Michigan makes a fine example of how to turn a recession into a depression. It looks like the country will be following MI’s example.

  12. Gang of Four on a libertarian site? And good Gang of Four to boot.

    I love it!!

  13. When I read about this legislation I thought, that is the way gift cards should be treated by responsible retailers, but there is no way the goddam government should be involved. Thet WILL find a way to fuck it up and drive up costs.

    When the retailers started getting pissy about their gift cards, I adopted a radical and innovative solution. I stopped buying them. My nephews and nieces are happier with the cash, even as I lose control over where it is spent. Oh well.

    A simple “This card is good for face value for X amount of time” might get me to start giving them again, but the merchants have gotten penny wise and pound foolish over this. It’s their loss, and the state should just butt the hell out.

    Fully redeemable gift cards are not an unalienable right.

  14. “Because it’s a gift, Lamar! Giving people cash is so gauche.”

    That’s my point….that it isn’t a gift…it’s money with restrictions and an expiration date. Gift certificates, in my book, are just as gauche. My question is better stated, “why do people see restricted, limited time money as a gift rather than what it is…thoughtless money?”

  15. Who the hell would go to a B&B in Michigan?

    One who is visiting a Nimrod

  16. Buy Reason Gift Cards to support Reason without worrying that your family will redeem them.

  17. Why not make them redeemable until we break ground on the Moon colony?

    I want each and every one of you mugs, this holiday season, to buy a gift certificate for a fun-filled two week stay (double occupancy) at my secret moonbase fortress bed and breakfast.

  18. at my secret moonbase fortress bed and breakfast.

    Is that in Michigan too? I hear there are parts of Detroit that resemble the moon in their vacancy.

  19. Happy Birthday! Here’s some cash in a little costume that restricts where you can spend it. I put just enough thought into it to know not to give you cash, but nowhere near enough to actually have any idea what might be a good gift. Think of it as, I care enough to protect my own reputation, but not enough to care about what you might like. But today is all about YOU!

  20. I care enough to protect my own reputation, but not enough to care about what you might like.

    But at least I can be certain you won’t just blow it on drugs and alcohol.

    Unless you sell it to somebody else, for cash….

  21. Warren, when the nation gets the sniffles, Michigan gets pneunonia. It’s been that way for a long time.

  22. Lamar –
    Think of it this way.
    Gift cards may be insincere, but they usually come from someone who wouldn’t know what else to get you. So you’re either getting gifts from people that you otherwise wouldn’t get gifts from, or you’re getting something with which you can actually get something you want instead of having to pretend that you actually like the MP3 player they picked out for you.

    Either way, I’ve never been one to say “psh! you got me a gift card? Whore! Take it back! I don’t want anything from you!”

  23. “Lamar, who hurt you?”

    Let’s just say there were expectations but no AT-AT.

  24. What, the X-wing wasn’t good enough for you?

  25. Why did you waste my time on this non-issue?

  26. Why did you waste my time on this non-issue?

    Why did you waste your time reading it?

  27. “What, the X-wing wasn’t good enough for you?”

    Somebody else had the X-wing. I was responsible for the Imperial heavy lifting, and I take my responsibilities seriously! And there’s just no way a certificate to the fabric store is going to materialize into an AT-AT, or anything a little kid might want. You read that right: Mae’s Fabrics.

    So I’m exposed! I should also disclose at this point that greeting cards are officially discouraged in my family.

  28. You read that right: Mae’s Fabrics.

    Wow. OK, you are fully justified. Wow again. Fabrics? Wow.

  29. That’s like the time Homer bought Marge a bowling ball for her birthday, fit to his hand.

  30. “Wow. OK, you are fully justified. Wow again. Fabrics? Wow.”

    Apparently making a Halloween costume was the [misguided] thought process….and I get to relive that story every Thanksgiving/Christmas season.

  31. Just why did Aunt Mildred think you were gay, Lamar?

  32. Lamar’s not gay?

    (just kidding)

  33. A fabric store? Damn. That’s worse than dark blue socks, Lamar.

    A friend of mine, who was the only male working at a certain bank, got the same Christmas bonus as everyone else one year: a gift certificate to Fashion Bug.

  34. “Just why did Aunt Mildred think you were gay, Lamar?”

    I can’t answer that. If I could, there may be gift certificates allowed.

  35. Now see, Lamar
    In my family we do a lot of gift card selling-off. If I got a gift card to someplace I’d never go, all I had to do was find someone else in my family who would ever spend money at said store and sell it to them.
    Fabric store though… wow.

  36. I guess gift certificates are OK. It’s kind of like saying, I have no idea what you might like, but I heard you were into books.

  37. frees them from consumer terrorism after the five years run out

    Lamar’s got it just right, but I don’t think a buyer beware stance is correct on the issue.

    A gift certificate is just an IOU note…you owe me until you pay me back. There is no time limit on that.

  38. IOU until i decide that I don’t?

    Naw.

    You still owe me.

  39. Who the hell would go to a B&B in Michigan?

    Someone from Wisconsin.

  40. A gift certificate is just an IOU note…you owe me until you pay me back. There is no time limit on that.

    I suppose if that’s what the terms of the gift certificate are. If you purchase a gift certificate that has a five year expiration date on it, then it’s an IOU for five years.

  41. So Lamar wins the comment of the month award, right?

  42. In our business we sell a lot of gift cards and we don’t have any expiration date on them. We have some that have not been redeemed for over 9 years.
    Recently the state of Illinois decided that they should get a piece of the action and wanted retailers to pay to the state any unused amounts older than two years. So far they have been unsuccessful in passing the legistation,

  43. then it’s an IOU for five years.

    The thing is I didn’t buy the gift certificate.

    In every case I have ever seen where this issue has gone to court (wasn’t it Barnes and Noble recently?), the business lost the case after making the exact argument you are making here.

    The expiration date on a gift card has been, essentially, an unenforceable provision of the contract when push comes to shove.

    And that is how it should be, but Michigan just stepped in and sided with businesses making those provisions enforceable.

    I buy a couch from you…you say I have to pick it up by five O’clock or you’ll sell it to someone else? Nope. I already paid for it.

  44. Business: You didn’t get here before 5 so I sold you couch to someone else.

    Customer: No problem…my money back please.

    Same thing applies with the gift card.

  45. That’s a stupid policy, anyway. Get ’em in the door!

  46. Having been scammed when a change in management invalidated my gift certificate, I have sympathy for this form of regulation. Otherwise, companies will always have incentive to bury terms and conditions in the fine print to screw people out of what they promised, most especially the inactivity fee, since the victim is someone other than their direct customer.

  47. Recently the state of Illinois decided that they should get a piece of the action and wanted retailers to pay to the state any unused amounts older than two years. So far they have been unsuccessful in passing the legistation,

    Linky-link please? I believe you, I’d just like to have the link handy.

  48. The base htpocrisy in all of this is just way too easy to document.

    Check old lottery tickets: Someone is $260K winner

    If the winner doesn’t take the ticket to the Michigan Lottery’s Lansing office by July 24, the money will go into the state School Aid Fund, which supports kindergarten through 12th-grade public education in Michigan, Michigan Lottery spokeswoman Andi Brancato said Sunday.

    “The ticket expires a year from the date when it was purchased,” she said.

    Goose, gander, etc.

  49. “So Lamar wins the comment of the month award, right?”

    Nothing to see here. Move along.

  50. Most state laws that regulate this type of thing go the opposite direction of Michigan and side with the consumer.

    The problem I have here is the portrayal of the business who doesn’t honor a gift certificate as the victim.

  51. Gift cards have money laundering value. I can buy one of those prepaid credit card gift cards, or a card for a specific store since the grocery store has them for a lot of places. That way buying shit online doesn’t show up on credit card statements at least, in case someone is watching. Firearms, porn, booze…

  52. I have one “gift card”, which I keep reloaded myself; Walmart gives $.03 a gallon off on gas.

  53. re: P Brooks and the Marlins’ stadium, it will be built on the site of the Orange Bowl, which is being torn down. So no eminent domain involved, at least not for the stadium itself. I’m a Marlins fan from afar, and don’t know all the details, but I believe the Braman lawsuit has to do with what the county spends revenue (hotel taxes) on–the stadium or a performing arts center.

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