Nothing Brings The Retail Community Together Faster Than The Smell Of Blood

When the Sharper Image chain of 184 stores announced late in February that it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and that it would no longer honor its gift certificates, the community quickly rallied around its injured compatriot, like sharks coming to the aid of an injured swordfish.

First up was a gift card exchange site called Leverage. Leverage didn't offer to make good on the Sharper Image gift cards, but it did offer to make whole any of its own customers who bought Sharper Image gift cards through Leverage's site. That move will cost Leverage "a few thousand dollars," said Leverage CEO Mark Edward Roberts.

Leverage's offer was, however, extended to include any retailer filing for bankruptcy, theoretically giving customers a reason to purchase such gift cards through Leverage.

Roberts said he's not too concerns about this offer costing too much money. "The retailers that tend to go bankrupt, those are going to be the lesser-sold cards," he said.

A few days later, Sharper Image's largest rival, Brookstone, with about 314 locations, made its own bid for the Sharper Image gift cards. Sharper Image's offer is open to far more Sharper Image customers, although it's quite restricted. Apparently, they want to lure Sharper Image customers, but simply not that much.

They're not offering to accept the Sharper Image gift cards for face value, but to merely offer customers surrendering their Sharper Image gift cards a onetime 25 percent discount coupon.

"Customers, in exchange for turning over the Sharper Image gift card to Brookstone, receive a one-time, 25 percent discount off their entire Brookstone Store purchase," a Brookstone statement said. "The customer must make the Brookstone purchase at the time of relinquishing the Sharper Image gift card."

Brookstone also chose to exclude some of their most popular products, including those made by Sony, Celestron, Bose, Panasonic and Tempur-Pedic, as well as excluding their online customers. It also excludes prior sales and consumers who are repurchasing returned merchandise.

Sharper Image had no choice but to temporarily refuse to accept the gift cards, given it's legal position. But if the Brookstone move is successful, it will then be sitting on a pile of valid Sharper Image gift cards that it could theoretically use to acquire Sharper Image merchandise.

All in all, this is another argument for why consumers shouldn't gift cards hang around in drawers any longer than necessary. And retailers should focus on incentives to help consumers do just that.