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Possible company sale shouldn’t worry Barnes & Noble gift cardholders

Jeremy Simon

News that book retailer Barnes & Noble may be up for sale shouldn’t send consumers speeding to the nearest store, gift card in hand.

Barnes & Noble announced on Aug. 3 that it was considering a possible sale of the company. But a potential change in ownership won’t leave its gift cards valueless, Barnes & Noble and an independent expert say.

“The fact that the board is exploring strategic alternatives has nothing to do with the day-to-day business,” says Mary Ellen Keating, the company’s senior vice president of corporate communications. Barnes & Noble is continuing to accept
its gift cards as usual, Keating says.

And it will likely continue to redeem store-issued plastic. Even if a sale were to happen, “that means the gift cards should still be viable under the new ownership,” says Tim Henderson, senior director with consumer research and advisory firm Iconoculture in Minneapolis. Henderson adds that he has no insider knowledge about the details of Barnes & Noble’s business plans.

Consumers who have been left with valueless gift cards before — remember the Sharper Image? — may still be concerned. “We have seen in the past where some retailers who go belly up and shutter their stores have indicated that their gift cards won’t be filled or will be filled at half price,” Henderson says. But when that happens, the competition has the chance to pick up some added business. “It’s an opportunity for competing brands to step in and say they’ll honor those gift cards,” Henderson says. That’s what happened when Sharper Image shuttered its doors and restaurant chains Bennigan’s and Steak and Ale closed, for example.

In Barnes & Noble’s case, however, there’s a likelihood of a sale, not a bankruptcy. “I really don’t think there’s any concern there” about useless gift cards, Henderson says.

Instead, Henderson says his recommendation for Barnes & Noble gift cardholders is the same advice he’d give consumers that carry any retailer’s prepaid card. “Just be a savvy consumer, be a smart consumer. Keep watch on all brands and know your gift card’s terms, expiration dates, etc.,” he says. “I think that’s just part of being a smart consumer.”

See related: Brookstone accepts Sharper Image gift cards, Competitors honor Bennigan’s, Steak and Ale gift cards, Troubled times call for speedy gift card redemption, 2009 gift card comparison table

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