Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Selling Gift Cards

Henry received a Toys R Us gift card for his birthday from a family friend. One morning after reading his current favorite book (Big Machines), I asked Henry if he would like to use his birthday money to buy a truck. He is currently very interested in machines and animals. He received an ant farm for his birthday, so I figured a truck would make sense to complement his interests.

First we went to How We Montessori to figure out which brand of trucks Otis and Caspar have. We were elated to find out that the trucks they have--Bruder--are available on Amazon. Henry and I scrolled through all the different options and read many reviews. We also compared prices. We knew that we only had about $25 to spend. 

One we found the truck that fit our budget and had really positive reviews, I searched for it on the Toys R Us site. Sadly, it cost $5 more than Amazon, would have to be picked up at the store, and didn't actually seem to be available. 

That's when I decided to explore my options for selling the gift card in exchange for credit. I found this article which summarizes the main sites for selling back gift cards. I poked around on various sites and realized that Plastic Jungle was going to give me the best return on the card. They took $4 and gave me $21 of Amazon credit nearly instantly. 

After a few very intuitive clicks, I was able to buy the truck on Amazon. I spent $5, which I would have spent at Toys R Us (since the truck was $5 more expensive). I definitely recommend the site, especially if you have gift cards to stores that you don't really want to use.



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7 comments:

Annalisa said...

I just don't understand what the point was of selling the gift card? It seems to me that you value time and generosity of people within your community. You spent so much time and effort to be back at square one. Why not take Henry down to the Toys R Us and let him pick the gift out himself? Anyone with a toddler can spend hours there. It also supports a brick-and-mortar shop! (PS - they have 20% off sales all the time, you may have even been able to get the same truck discounted in a few weeks) I'm also surprised you would just exchange the gift card -- I know Henry's little now and doesn't understand social etiquette but what message does that send in the future? For someone who always emphasizes community and relationships, I think your actions seemed a little inconsistent.

I'm sure my writing comes off as harsh but I read your post and my jaw dropped some. Maybe there was a upside I missed?

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Annalisa! I didn't read your criticism as "harsh." I definitely want people to speak up when they think I'm not living in line with my values.

I thought about it some more, and I still feel okay with my decision. I don't think using the gift card to get Henry something that he would really like is a violation of the generosity or time of my nearest and dearest. I think the intent of the gift card was for him to get something he really wanted, and we were able to accomplish that.

The reason I didn't just take Henry down to the local Toys R Us and let him pick something out is because I don't actually think those kinds of stores are developmentally appropriate. I think two year-olds' brains are set up to handle 2-3 choices, not 1 million. And most of the toys at those kinds of places are not in line with our values. Many of them are electronic and promote passive engagement. I also do not have more allegiance to big box "brick and mortar" stores than I do to Amazon (more allegiance to locally owned and operated stores, yes).

I still want to "follow the child" and honor Henry's choices and preferences when we buy things for him. That's why we browsed the site together and talked about the different options (after I observed his behavior/interests and speculated that he might really like a truck of his own--since he's always trying to hold the trucks in books).

In the end, we'll get to send the gift giver a picture of Henry happily engaged with his new truck, which her gift to us made possible. I don't feel like that's a slap in my community's face.

I was thinking about the issue of my values and trying to represent them on this blog. I think it's easy for it to seem like I'm inconsistent or not living according to my values because my values are mainly overlapping yet sometimes contradictory. Sometimes I find myself in situations where I'm forced to prioritize one set of values over another.

Thanks for instigating more thought, Annalisa!

Annalisa said...

I appreciate your thought out response, as always. A few thoughts (while feeding my toddler and nursing my infant so this might be scattered!). First, I have a fairly "successful" online store while a good friend of mine has a physical store baby boutique. Comparing notes and strategies i've determined it's hard to have that physical store overhead. While my friend is local, she sells a lot of the same things I do online. I hate when people tell me they would buy from her because she is small, local, etc. My expenses, taxes, and profits are always reinvested into my community. We buy things from the same suppliers and we both operate our businesses within our community. Toys R Us is really not that different -- their taxes go to our local municipalities, pay local employees, etc. If they closed, our community could feel a loss. Second, I feel like it's sort of close minded to want to limit a toddlers choices and experiences. We've been to the Toy store a few times (truthfully, it's next to the grocery store so it's an easy place to have my husband bring her). We don't go down every aisle or experience all the electronic toys. It's neat to see what she gravitates towards. it's fun to see whats there and whats totally a waste. We have a fantastic museum of play here for kids -- i followed your logic, i wouldn't bring her there and that would do her a disservice. there's tons to see, do, and experience --some critical thinking, sensory play, and some simply pressing electronic buttons. it's such a blast to see her have fun in the world and i think you assume too much about what they get in and out of the world around them. my 3rd point is sometimes i feel that you drink the montessori kool-aid a little too much. i think there is great value in some of it but the same goals can be achieved, and happen naturally, without the extreme effort and $35 special wooden toys. i have a 21 mo old and 3 mo old -- we spend tons of time reading books for all ages (i ask questions, we make letter sounds, count, look for colors, ask hypotheticals), legos/mega blocks, coloring, stickers, etc. i plan a daily activity like tearing paper, taping/glueing/cutting things, etc. we also let her play games on the ipad and watch sesame street. some of her toys make noises and have batteries. i think because we care as parents and are intentional in our actions both of our kids can be outstanding global citizens. i feel like limiting things/experiences or even making things harder on yourself seems unnecessary. i know everyone parents differently but the way you present yourself, you seem stressed and sometimes it seems like you spend too much time being bogged down by details. i think it's good to put thoughts in our actions but honestly, it baffled my mind with your gift card scenario that you put some energy into something trivial. i would've recommended a mommy and me date, explored the toys r us for an hour (they have hippy toys too - which i completely promote!), and maybe got a lunch/ice cream to share. that would've been a fun experience and you really would enjoy seeing him find things that seem interesting, and valued the alone time like that. anyway, long response -- hope it makes sense. its hard to give feedback like this and hope it's taken in the same light i'm giving it.

mamaschlick said...

Hi, I just had to jump in here. I don't think Sara is being "closed minded" at all just because she doesn't want to take Henry to Toys R Us. I would not refer to that as some wonderful experience that he is missing out on. It's a commerical store with toys. I think it's great that you use it as an educational tool for your kids, but honestly, it can be overwhelming for an adult let alone a child. Each parent decides for their child, and not taking them to a store hardly qualifies as closed minded in my opinion. The toys there can be overstimulating, as can television at that age. There is nothing wrong with limiting a toddler's experiences into small, manageable chunks, and it hardly seems that Sara limits Henry's experiences or choices. To me, and I mean this honestly, it seems like something about this post pushed your buttons, maybe having to do with your own store and your friend, I don't know. My question to Sara is whether you actually saved any money? My only discomfort with the whole thing is that I hate for that company to get $4 out of $25. $4 doesn't sound like much but it is a whopping 16% of the cost (if I did my math right)!

I also see nothing wrong etiquette-wise with selling the gift card. The intention of the gift is to get something Henry wants. It is not a personal hand picked gift--quite the opposite--it is a way of saying, I don't want to limit your options, please choose whatever you think Henry would enjoy.

Bottom line--I'm glad Henry got what he wants and I think it is awesome that he was involved in the process! Hooray! Let us know how he likes it.

Carson said...

Hello, Sara! I just had a question about something you said in your comments. You mentioned that electronic toys do not fall within your line of values. Does this apply to all electronic toys? If not, how do you personally qualify which ones promote passive engagement? (If Henry is still interested in machines when he is older, something like Lego Mindstorms would probably be very enjoyable, but it is electronic...)

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Carson! I find that most of the electronic toys geared toward 2 year-olds pale in comparison to the other activities Henry could be doing to build his fine and gross motor skills, concrete understanding of the way the world works, vocabulary, problem-solving, etc. It's less that we're "anti-electronic" and more that we're "pro-real experiences" for this age. Henry spends a lot of time wandering around in our backyard (looking at flowers, finding bugs, trying out secret paths, etc.), helping around the house (unloading the dishwasher, cooking, feeding the dog, getting himself water, etc.), being read to, riding his balance bike, playing at the park, etc. I personally feel like all of these things support his development more than something with flashy lights, lots of different noises, and plastic buttons. He received one of those toys for Christmas and he absolutely enjoys playing with it, but I worry about the lessons it teaches him about the world and learning. It seems to reiterate that learning is very passive and constantly entertaining (i.e., you hit one button and the machine does 5 times as much work). I also don't think it was designed with a young child's brain in mind. Their brains are set up to absorb absolutely everything around them. They don't filter in the same way we do, which is why I worry about over-stimulation.

As Henry gets older, I'm sure electronic toys will absolutely start to seem more developmentally appropriate. (I'm thinking robots! Remote-controlled airplanes!).

Definitely let me know if you have more questions! I love talking about this stuff.

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Annalisa! I definitely "drink the Montessori kool-aid." I feel so fortunate to have found a parenting and educational philosophy that resonates with me so deeply. Yes, it often makes my life more difficult and stressful. For example, it is so much easier to dress a child than it is to coach him/her to dress him/herself. It's also easier to sit a two year-old in front of a movie than it is to bring him/her into the kitchen to help with dinner. But I see this hard work and stress as an investment in an easier future. I can already see that the extra stress and hard work that come from implementing the Montessori method diligently lead to increased confidence and independence.

Please don't feel sorry for me. I'm very happy with the parenting choices we're making and the results we're seeing in Henry. That's the best that any of us can ask for. We have to figure out what works for us regardless of what others think about our choices.

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