Q: A local business will not be reopening. I have a gift card to redeem, what advice may BBB offer in this situation?
A: As businesses start to reopen after closing due to coronavirus restrictions, consumers may notice that sadly, some merchants did not survive the pandemic's economic stress.
What do you do when a business you frequent suddenly closes down? If you have yet to receive goods or services that you have already paid for, all may not be lost. BBB has these tips to help you toward resolution:
Collect receipts, proofs of purchase and any other documents such as warranties and manuals. These materials will help you prepare for your request for a resolution.
Check with the bank or credit card you used to make the purchase(s) at the now-closed company. You may be able to dispute the transaction(s) due to failure to receive goods or services. Credit cards offer more consumer protections on purchases than debit cards do, so it's generally better to do your shopping, particularly for big ticket items, with a credit card.
Try to contact the company to complete the transaction or resolve the issue. Some closed companies will offer an email, website or phone number to contact for more information. Check with BBB to see if they have information about the company, or search for the company on BBB.org. If the business has a physical address, check to see if there is a notice posted with information on where to turn for help. Also look on the company's website and social media presence for information.
If the company has not filed for bankruptcy, the business is still obligated to fulfill your order for goods, services or a refund. Closing a business doesn't relieve the owner of that responsibility. While it can be a time-consuming and expensive option, a consumer may choose to take the company to court.
For returns: if you have a warranty for an item you bought at the store, look into whether the warranty was issued by the manufacturer or by the store. If the manufacturer issued the warranty, it will most likely honor it. When a company goes out of business, its warranties and services often die with it, unless other agreements have been made.
If you have unused gift cards for a closed business, bankruptcy filings will likely determine if and how they can be used or claimed. Under normal circumstances, gift cards are valid for years – or indefinitely. Federal Trade Commission regulations from 2010 declared that money on a gift card can't expire for at least five years. However, the situation changes when a business declares bankruptcy.
When you buy a gift card, you are essentially giving the company a loan until you redeem the value. When a store files for bankruptcy, payments are frozen and creditors must file claims in order to get paid. Gift card holders will unfortunately find themselves out of luck or with limited options. This isn't even up to the business. The court decides whether – and for how long – to accept gift cards.
If you miss the deadline to redeem a gift card, you are able to file a claim for the value of the card. However, these claims are processed behind the company's major creditors. So if you see news about a company preparing to file for bankruptcy, use your gift cards immediately.
Gift Cards and Bankruptcy
Before buying a gift card, look into the retailer's financial condition: If news articles report that a company is on shaky ground, it might be best to purchase a gift card from another retailer.
Check the terms and conditions. A gift card's terms may allow the card to be used at another business location.
Purchase gift cards with a credit card, if possible: Your credit card company may be able to help recover money lost if a business goes under. Some retailers, however, require gift cards to be purchased with cash.
Use gift cards as quickly as possible: While you may have years – or forever – to use the gift card, that doesn't mean you should wait that long to spend it.
For more BBB news, scam alerts, and tips, visit BBB.org/news.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga