Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gift cards--a cautionary tale

Evan's mother and stepfather are wonderful and generous people. Two birthdays ago, they asked me what I wanted for a gift and, as usual, I went blank. I did know that I'd want more Rachel Comey dresses and Surface to Air shoes so I opted for a gift card for an online retailer that sold both, offered free shipping and had a great range of eco moisturisers, shower gels, etc, tobi.com. I figured I'd most likely buy a new pair of Rachel Comey or Surface to Air ankle boots or shoes early in the fall when they offered their 30% discount. I wanted a pair of Mars booties and those were my default option. I'd purchased from the site before, had had good experiences, and knew that if all else failed, I'd find a great dress or top in their sales.

Alas, they stopped stocking both designers. I wondered if it was just a one season thing and thought I'd wait a little longer. After all, they also stocked Opening Ceremony and a few others, so I'd be fine. And maybe they'd see the error of their ways and restock the designers I liked.

But recently the store seems to have completely changed their brand. I noticed a lot of 30% offers on new stock, but then looked further--all were for cheap ($30-60) dresses and the site now charged for shipping items under $150. A closer look at their site revealed that they were clearly selling off the remains of the old stock (and not always at a big discount) and not restocking anything in the contemporary/independent designer brand. Even the Korres, Red Flower, Ren, Panagea Organics and other high end organic or natural brands and the Envirosax were the dregs of old stock. So, with my gift card lying in my in box and a 30% discount on full price merchandise this weekend, I pretty much cleaned them out of shampoos, conditioners, moisturisers and shower gels (a slight exaggeration, perhaps, but I got a lot of stock and many items were the last one). I now have a huge box coming to my house.

I've learned a lesson here. Don't sit on gift cards! The store may close, change its brand (here going vastly downmarket) or reposition itself into something that doesn't offer what you need or want. I thought I was safe given this site's visibility and its history of stocking what I wanted. But after an hour or so filling my shopping cart, I was actually hard pressed to find things I wanted (other than CDG wallets that cost more than on comparable sites). So I ended up with toiletries. I'm not unhappy as the deals were good and I'd have to buy them anyway, but my preferred fragrances and formulations were often sold out. I also don't know where I'll stock everything (and I still have a Body Shop groupon to spend), but I know that I can put the money I've saved on these items into some other trinket, dress or accessory. Had I waited another month or so, I would very likely have ended up with an utterly useless gift card or a lot of cheap lycra/polyester blend clothing...

5 comments:

erica said...

Also don't sit on a Groupon! I waited until the final month to use a coupon at a local baby store only to discover they had gone out of business! No one will respond to my emails, and at the end of the day, I only lost $20, but still....

I was tempted by the Steven Alan Refinery29 deal but after my Groupon experience, I'd rather not be tethered to all of these rules and uncertainties.

Moya said...

Thanks for the reminder. I have to print and use my soon to expire Whole Foods groupon.

Amanda said...

I think I know which retailer you're talking about and if it indeed is the one I'm talking about, they used to be able to give Revolve a run for their money, but now they seem to just be selling to the under 21 crowd. Disappointing.

Quinn said...

I went to tobi the other day--hadn't been in months--and noticed they no longer stocked See by Chloe. Must be part of the downmarket trend you noticed.

joyce said...

i think the parent company of tobi also owns azalea and this new, upscale b+m store rand & statler in san francisco. but yeah, tobi has gone the way of le train bleu.