Bogus e-mail causes confusion over holiday gift card

Blogger, we know gift-card sales this holiday season are expected to fall 6 percent over last year. This can’t help. Rachel



Raleigh News & Observer

An ominous e-mail has made the round of inboxes recently, warning shoppers not to purchase gift cards from a long list of stores because, it claims, they are failing.

The e-mail says in part: “Stores that are planning to close after Christmas are still selling the (gift) cards through the holidays even though the cards will be worthless January 1. There is no law preventing them from doing this.” The warning is followed by a list of stores that are supposedly closing.

As with many rumors, the e-mail does contain some truth. Some stores listed, such as Linens ‘N Things, are indeed in the process of liquidation.

Some of the e-mail is old news.

For instance, the e-mail says chains such as The Sharper Image and Wilson’s Leather will go out of business. Both chains have already shut down.

Other statements are completely false.

For instance, Talbot’s, which also owns the J. Jill women’s apparel chain, has no plans to close either chain, despite what the e-mail claims.

Talbot’s is trying to sell J. Jill, and it did close down its Talbot’s Mens and Talbot’s Kids divisions this year.

Company spokeswoman Betsy Thompson said Talbot’s has had so many inquiries over the past week that the company made an exception to its policy to not address rumors by posting a statement on its Web site.

“As this was potentially damaging to the relationship and the trust we have with our customers, we felt it was important to state otherwise — to state the facts,” Thompson said.

Consumers should trust their intuition when it comes to such “warning” e-mails, said Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.

“It’s unfortunate that the spectrum of this e-mail has been this wide,” she said. “Retailers have been very forthcoming this year with announcing store closures. … There’s no such thing as leaking a store closing.”

Shoppers should also note that a chain closing stores does not necessarily mean the company is going out of business, Grannis added.

“Closing and opening new stores is really a cycle that happens every day, every year,” she said.

The timing is really bad for retailers who are already looking at a bad holiday shopping season. The last thing they need is for false information to keep shoppers away.

“No one wants to look at (going from) being down 5 percent to being down 12 because of a bad rumor,” said Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson of Talbot’s said she does not know of any plans the chain has to try to prosecute the people who started the rumor.

“I don’t know if we ever could,” she said. “It’s quite possible it’s someone who misinterpreted this information. … You know, somebody is trying to be helpful in passing this along. But you have to ask about where did the information come from and is it accurate.”

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