How to... make the most of those Christmas gift vouchers
Who hasn't received a gift voucher for Christmas? It's not just an easy option; it's a very practical way of gift giving, which explains why the amount of money spent on them increases every year.
In 2012, for example, it was estimated that approximately £4.4bn was spent on vouchers –6% of which were never cashed in.
Indeed, this year industry experts are predicting that voucher sales will peak at over £5bn, with half of these never being redeemed.
University of Ulster retail expert Donald McFetridge said the problem is that people tuck vouchers away in a safe place and forget to redeem them, or they plan to save them up for a special treat at some stage in the future.
"As a result, retailers, who already have the money in their tills, are laughing all the way to the bank," he said.
"Often consumers discover vouchers which have reached their expiry date and are unable to reclaim them, or find that one worth £100 is not valid for a purchase of less than that amount without forfeiting the extra cash.
"For example, if you have a £100 voucher and wish to buy an item for £50, it is not always the case that you'll receive £50 in change or even be allowed to keep that £50 on your card for future use."
So what can you do to make the most of them?
1 Read the terms and conditions carefully to avoid disappointment at a later date.
2 It's worth noting that, if the voucher issuer enters administration, those holding them are in a very vulnerable position. In fact, they are in what is known as the 'fifth tier' in terms of ever getting their money or goods back. A case in point last year was Jessops, where many holding vouchers were left high and dry.
3 Check out the trading status of retailers from whom you wish to buy vouchers in order to avoid problems in the future. If you have any doubts, do not spend with that retailer; choose another one instead.
4 Consumers should treat gift vouchers as cash. Don't tuck them away for future use; they are easily forgotten about.
5 The main message is clear: if you receive a Christmas gift voucher this year, get out there and spend it as quickly as possible; do not put it in a safe place for future use.