£300m wasted on unspent vouchers
Consumers will waste as much as £300 million this year by leaving gift vouchers to expire.
Every year 6% of vouchers go unused as they lie forgotten in people's wallets and drawers, a study by the UK Gift Card and Voucher Association (UKGCVA) found.
Some £2.5 billion worth of gift cards and vouchers were sold in UK retail stores last year as gifts and £2.25 billion worth were bought by businesses as staff or customer rewards.
The gift card and voucher industry grew by 10% in the third quarter of this year, according to the UKGCVA, and the UK industry as a whole is now worth £5 billion.
Consumer affairs minister Jo Swinson urged recipients to spend and enjoy any vouchers they get for Christmas before they expire.
She said: "Cards and vouchers are a popular gift choice at this time of year, but many people do not even realise that there is an expiry date and fail to check the details.
"Hundreds of millions of pounds is going unspent, which means consumers are losing out.
"I would urge people to look carefully at the terms and conditions on the voucher or gift card and if it is not perfectly clear how long it is valid for, they should contact the retailer who issued it so that they know when they need to use it by.
"It is a real shame to miss out on a gift because a card or voucher is left hidden in a drawer."
However technology could provide a solution as digital vouchers, such as those that can be loaded on to a mobile phone, are becoming more popular, the UKGCVA said.
UKGCVA director-general Andrew Johnson said: "Whilst money does of course go unspent on gift cards and vouchers due to them being left in drawers or forgotten about, it is important to note that retailers actually prefer customers to spend their gift cards and vouchers.
"Firstly, people using gift cards spend 40% more than the value of the voucher on purchases in store or online. Secondly, gift cards and vouchers provide multiple benefits to retailers, such as introducing new customers and increasing footfall.
"The majority of customers spend vouchers within the first three to six months of receiving them and it is important to remember that the vast majority of consumers that use their gift vouchers do have a positive experience of the process, and greatly value the flexibility and choice that this option provides."