GIFT cards presented Australian retailers with a windfall worth more than $300million from last Christmas alone due to a range of factors including one in five cards not being cashed in and being unable to spend residual amounts.
An estimated $1.5billion was spent on gift cards at Christmas - and the annual spend across Australia was nearly $6billion.
Queensland University of Technology consumer expert Gary Mortimer said that while many Australians thought buying gift cards was a quick and convenient way to find presents, conditions in the fine print meant retailers were the real recipients of many gifts made by Australians last Christmas.
''It's estimated that 20per cent of gift vouchers are never redeemed, which means retailers pocket millions of dollars,'' he said.
''If you get one for sewing lessons, bungee jumping or a spray tan, you can't just get the cash and spend it elsewhere on something you need.
''The retailer has the cash, why can't you get it back when you return the unused card? And you generally don't get change. If you use a $50 Gift Card to buy a $48 shirt, a $2 credit remains on the card.''
The debacle over some Borders Book Stores franchises refusing to honour gift cards after the company collapsed last year demonstrated another difficulty facing consumers using gift cards.
Dr Mortimer said consumers need to realise gift cards were essentially the same as cash - and be more careful how they used the credit.