A cold wind is blowing down the High Street.
House of Fraser is just the latest in a series of high-profile retailers and restaurants that have been driven out of business.
Many others are closing branches, begging their landlords for rent cuts or looking for a buyer. Their days may be numbered.
So once again, it’s time for a warning about gift cards. When a business dies, any unspent gift cards usually die with it, leaving the people who hoped to spend them with nothing.
Every year, individuals spend about £2.5bn on gift cards for friends and relatives. Businesses spend another £3.5bn on cards to give as bonuses or rewards to staff. The industry used to say that 6% of the money spent on gift cards was never redeemed.
Nowadays it reports it’s just 1.5% within a year of purchase. This still means a whopping £90m-worth sits languishing in a drawer or forgotten in a pocket.
One problem is that gift cards usually have an expiry date. If you don’t use them within two years – or sometimes one – they are no longer valid.
The clock starts running when the card was bought, not given, so you should spend a card as soon as you can.
Many can be spent online, and some of the better ones reset the clock every time the card is used.
My favourite gift is a voucher that says at the top, “I promise to pay the Bearer on demand the sum of Ten Pounds” (or Twenty or Fifty) and is signed by the Chief Cashier at the Bank of England. It never expires and you can spend it anywhere.