What does this fine print mean?
April 4, 2020 4:58 PM   Subscribe

My hair salon sent out an email asking people to buy gift cards now while they're closed. I was all set to do it, but then I read the fine print, and I'm a little confused.

Here's what the original email said:

Wondering how you can support your local salon? Click the link below to buy gift cards for future services!

Buy a $100 gift card—>get $25 off a future service

Buy a $200 gift card—>get $50 off a future service

The discount will be taken at the time the card is redeemed.

Then when I clicked on the link, I saw this:

Support our salon with a pledge and receive a complimentary Gift Card.
Pledging is not a guarantee of future services rendered. Your pledge is a way to support our salon.

What does that mean? I find this language confusing. Am I NOT buying future services?
posted by swheatie to Shopping (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What it means is as unclear to us as it is to you. We would just be guessing. You should ask them to clarify.
posted by beagle at 5:04 PM on April 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

My guess is that it's their covering themselves in case they go out of business. Basically, if you buy the gift card and the business goes under, you're out of luck.
posted by schwab at 5:06 PM on April 4, 2020 [66 favorites]

It doesn't really matter at the end of the day, because there's never a guarantee for gift cards. If you have $100 in Walmart gift cards and Walmart goes bust tomorrow, you get nothing for them. But a lot of credit card transaction companies will not let you pay today for a service delivered in less than X days, and some won't allow gift card purchases so this looks like a (commonplace) mechanism to circumvent that.

Ask them, though.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:08 PM on April 4, 2020

If I read it a certain way, it says they get your $100 and you get $25 off a future service after/if they reopen, and nothing else (not $100 or $125 worth of service). It's super fishy sounding to me.
posted by fritley at 5:13 PM on April 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

It sounds like this is more a donation than a normal business transaction, and some customers might be down for that. A local bookstore set up a Go Fund Me to stay in business. This seems a little less direct.
posted by FencingGal at 5:32 PM on April 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

I suspect it means they don't have any money now, and if they're lucky enough to be in a position to reopen when things have stabilized, they don't want everyone to redeem their gift cards at once, so they won't have any money then. Their position is logical if they're really struggling and chances are many of them are. The salon itself would have monthly financial obligations including rent, and so would the individuals involved. I don't mean this the wrong way, but rather than parse the terms of the card, why don't you have a heart and just buy one, and consider it a gift.

The fact is their only option for making money within their field at the moment is some sort of online advisory. If you like their services and don't like the terms of their card, you might offer to pay them some reasonable amount for virtual haircare assistance instead.
posted by Violet Blue at 5:35 PM on April 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

It's a discount card, in return for your donation -- you'd only be able to use the card if the salon is able to re-open. If you have a regular hair stylist at this salon, could you contact them directly for their take? (Instead of the salon, you could PayPal or Venmo $ to the stylist in support. Or you could broach the subject of a similar "discount" wherever they land after the restrictions are lifted, because you want to help them now.) Edit to add, because it was lost in the copy & paste: in either event (supporting the salon or supporting the stylist), a future discount is not guaranteed.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:06 PM on April 4, 2020

They're not "selling" you a gift card, they are giving you one for free if you pledge. Note the wording, you get the gift card but it's the pledge that isn't worth anything in the future. They are trying to word it so it's not a sale.

I would not be surprised if they are trying to do this to exploit some loophole (taxes, aid eligibility, whatever) to help them stay afloat. They may or may not be acting based on sound legal advice by doing this, but that aspect of it is not your problem IMO. (Normally I actually *would* say weird things like this are a turnoff but can't really blame anyone these days for trying to stay afloat.)
posted by mark k at 6:16 PM on April 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

I think the question is whether this is a usual gift card - which you can give as a gift to someone who uses it to pay for services (and as a bonus you get $25 off too) or if it meant as a gift to salon (which is certainly not the usual meaning) and in return for your $100 gift, you get a $25 discount. Can't say for sure which one they mean.
posted by metahawk at 6:17 PM on April 4, 2020

This is very confusing. To me it reads as if you buy a $100 gift card, you will get the $100 gift card but also $25 off your next appointment. So, say your cut and colour would cost $100, it will only cost you $75. You'd then still have money left on your gift card.

Then I think the last bit is about covering their arse if they go out of business and you end up not being able to redeem your gift card or discount at all.

But that's different to how other people here are reading it, so I think you need to clarify with the salon directly. Maybe that's not possible if they are closed, but they might be maintaining their social media presence enough to be able to answer questions.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 6:25 PM on April 4, 2020 [6 favorites]

Is the "gift" a gift of money to them?
posted by amtho at 6:27 PM on April 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

If I had to guess, I would guess that they are trying to get around the consumer protection legislation with regard to gift cards (no expiry dates, must provide unused amounts on another gift card or cash out small remaining values, etc -- the laws vary by jurisdiction) by treating the gift card as a gift from them to you. The requirements for promotional gift cards -- ones that you didn't directly pay for --are generally much less stringent.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:33 PM on April 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

Yeah, this was on Good Morning America a couple of days ago when people/businesses ask questions to the Shark Tank. The gift card was a NO. They're wording it so that "Pledging is not a guarantee of future services rendered. " so if they don't survive it becomes a failed fund-raiser with no reprecusions for them. Sort of a bad idea versus taking advantage of available relief and just keeping in contact with clients. You might never get that $100+25 out of your 'pledge'. But you might if both of you survive past the things go normal again. No guarantees.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:44 PM on April 4, 2020

It is what it says on the tin. A GIFT to them. They will give you a discount in the future if you gift them money now.

I would not look at this as a business transaction. I would look at it as a gift. Whenever someone asks to borrow money from me, I hand them half and tell them it is a gift. That way, I lose half as much as I would if I 'lent' them money.
posted by AugustWest at 6:49 PM on April 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

You might never get that $100+25 out of your 'pledge'.

See I'm not even reading it as that. It's not a $100 gift card, redeemable later, plus a $25 discount when you redeem it. You're paying $100 now as a gift/donation to them, with no promised service in return. You're doing it because you want them to survive.

Later, you might get a $25 discount as a thank-you for your support.

Selling gift cards at face value, much less with a discount on top of that, makes no business sense right now. It's just building up debt for later. When you finally get going again, you won't be able to make any money because you'll be working so much for free (money you received a long time ago and already spent).
posted by ctmf at 7:04 PM on April 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

It's worth considering that a lot of small businesses in this situation are grasping at straws and are offering these promotions without any advice or certainty on what the stated terms actually require under applicable law.

IMHO, the best way to approach this is to buy whatever value you're comfortable losing should they never re-open.

It's not supposed to be a donation, but best to consider it as one, with some potential for a credit.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:08 PM on April 4, 2020 [6 favorites]

My read is that you donate £100 and then if they reopen you have £25 to spend at their salon. That’s the only way this offer makes sense to me from a ‘we’re about to go under if we don’t do something’ point of view. Otherwise they’d definitely go under if they owed everyone the money “loaned” to them plus 25%.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:31 AM on April 5, 2020

Consider that businesses wouldn't survive under normal circumstances if the price charged for their product or service were equal to its cost. Promising to provide £125 of services later on a £100 pre-payment is effectively the same thing as running a 25% off promotion. There may still be some profit left, or at worst (hopefully) they break even and manage to avoid going out of business.

Plus, they will theoretically also have normally paying customers once they reopen. Businesses like salons that can survive will probably have heightened demand for a least a little while once we can all go out again.

With their weird "pledge" wording, I would just ask them.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:51 AM on April 5, 2020

(arrgh, make that a 20% off promotion.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:10 AM on April 5, 2020

Selling gift cards at face value, much less with a discount on top of that, makes no business sense right now. It's just building up debt for later

There's a fairly straightforward logic to it. You have expenses now--you still likely owe rent (even if there's a temporary eviction moratorium in some areas) and you may also be counting on the income to do things like pay a mortgage. Or eat.

The "piling up debt" is essentially true, but that also means it's essentially taking a loan which a lot of small businesses really need. There's a lot to argue about in terms of the actual numbers an MBA could dig into--the interest rate is really high, but some people never cash gift cards and you are repaying in services not cash. And if it gets people in the door as the shutdown ends that's a plus too.
posted by mark k at 8:21 AM on April 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

I think the best analogy might be, if you donate $100 to PBS and get a mug, you didn't buy a $100 mug. You got a gift to thank you for, and encourage, your donation. If you donate $100 to Salon and get a "$25.00 off your next appointment when/if we re-open" gift card, you didn't buy a $125.00 gift card. It's confusing because the only motivating/appreciative "gift" they can offer is not an explicitly separate object but something so close to the transaction of the pledge.
posted by nantucket at 9:56 AM on April 5, 2020

To me it reads like "Buy a $100 gift card which allows you to spend $100 at our salon in the future, like any other gift card, and you'll also get 25% off your next service. But if we go out of business we don't owe you anything."

But considering that everyone here is reading it in wildly different ways, THERE IS ONLY ONE ANSWER: TALK TO THE SALON.
posted by mmoncur at 4:04 PM on April 5, 2020 [4 favorites]

Selling regular gift card just transfers the pain of not having money now to whenever things back to normal.

My wife is a manicurist, and the day she closed her shop in March she immediately removed her online gift card stuff. She’s rather just not have the money now, verses having some income now but working all of August for free. The money coming in would be the same, but planning her business based on when all the gift card people might come in would be a hassle.
posted by sideshow at 6:13 PM on April 5, 2020

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