Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Abercrombie Gets Swiped into Lawsuit Over Gift Cards...

...And fate sure loves to bring A&F loads of controversy and lawsuits!
Original photography from 'FIERCE' Christmas 2009 featuring model Nick Bateman.
Christmas 2009 was an interesting season. Themed 'FIERCE', it was marked by the opening of A&F Milan and the first Abercrombie & Fitch in Asia – A&F Ginza in Tokyo. Back in the States, sales had been slipping considerably because of the recession and A&F was loosening up in giving customers promotional incentives to shop at the stores...

It was during the month of December of that year that Abercrombie & Fitch dished out promotional gift cards, carrying a value of US$25, to shoppers who spent US$100 or more. One of those shoppers was Dorothy Stojka who ultimately received 3 cards for a total of US$75 worth. Stojka later gave these cards to her acquaintance Tiffany Boundas. So, months go by and Boundas drops by Abercrombie & Fitch in Oak Brook, Illinois, in April 2010. Up to the cash wrap/tills she goes with her 3 cards only to be told that the cards were voided – that they expired – on 30 January 2010.

What's the problem? The cards themselves are printed with " expiration date." As can be imagined, it must have been a little humiliating, but more so infuriating, going up there, expecting your cards to go through, only to be told that they are no longer valued. Boundas and Stojka both proceeded to file a class action lawsuit against Abercrombie in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. They argue that A&F breached contract when the Company voided the cards. A&F then fired back by stating that the cards originally came in a sleeve which stated the January 30 expiration date and that there were customers aware of the date. The cards were meant to be given to customers in that sleeve. The thing is, though, that the cards were nevertheless printed with "no expiration." Also, a store employee could have given the card without the sleeve or customers who did receive the card with sleeve could have passed it on without. As US District Judge Gary Feinerman stated, "[The] only open question [is] whether the cards expired on January 30, 2010, in which case Abercrombie did not breach, or never expired, in which case [A&F did breach]."[source 1]

Thus, the class action suit has gone forward. Stojka was dismissed and Boundas was appointed, by Judge Feinerman, as the class representative as she was the one who was told her cards expired: "The class in this case consists primarily of individuals holding an Abercrombie promotional gift card whose value was voided on or around January 30, 2010. That criterion is as objective as they come. The class also includes individuals who threw away their cards because they were told that the balances had been voided. That criterion is not as objective as actually holding a physical card, but anybody claiming class membership on that basis will be required to submit an appropriate affidavit," furthered Judge Feinerman.[source 1]

Subsidiary issues and defenses:[source 2]
  1. "Whether Abercrombie was contractually obligated to honor the promotional gift cards..."
  2. "If so, whether the contract’s terms are set forth on the gift card alone, the sleeve alone, or the card plus the sleeve; and..."
  3. "If the terms are set forth on the card plus the sleeve, whether the card trumps the sleeve or vice versa."
Interesting stuff, wouldn't you say? And you know, that the cards would have been set to expire on January 30 makes complete sense. That would have been by the time that the Christmas 2009 season ended. The cards were likely intended to have been used only until the end of that season. It was a promotional offer for Christmas 2009, after all. Apparently, that wasn't obvious to all and, as a result, now there is legal argument over the matter.

Only gift cards purchased by customers are the ones that do not have an expiration date. Cards given out for merchandise credit, when a customer returns merchandise without a receipt, expire one year after they are issued. Cards given as promotional offers are subject to a set period of time for when the offer will be valued and for when it will expire.

You should always check online the A&F brands' sites for details on all ongoing promotional offers as the details are always made available for you there.