I’m split on giftcards. On one hand, they’re fairly impersonal, colorful, lame duck debit cards, in thoughtfulness only a single step above cold cash. Damn it, Aunt Janet, how am I going to spend $45 dollars at Chili’s? Then again, they’re a fine compromise between the troublesome freedom of a check—whose worth might well be spent on trash bags, socks or other pedestrian flotsam—and the immutability of a solid gift. You know, like a snowglobe or something.
It looks like Volkswagen can’t quite decide, either. To assuage the thousands of owners whose cars were equipped with emissions-cheating software, the company will be providing $1,000 dollars of plastic. One card, worth $500, will be a simple prepaid debit—a kind of, Hey, we’re sorry, buy a roundtrip ticket to Tampa on us. The second, also worth $500, will be redeemable only at Volkswagen dealerships. Because who doesn’t want to festoon themselves in apparel branded with the logo of the company that just shafted them? Honey, turns out our new Jetta Sportwagen is worth bupkes. But check out this sweet Tiguan lapel pin!
Short of buying back customers’ cursed cars, or reimbursing them for lost resale value, a thousand bucks seems like a reasonable gesture of goodwill. Redeeming carries no stipulations—that is, owners can still get the cards and shop Sunday, then turn around and join a class action suit Monday. And, of course, the dealer-specific card will be boon to dealerships, the blameless intermediary between Volkswagen and its customers, who nevertheless are suffering from the one-two punches of consumer anger and a stop-sale on all new and used diesel models. (Despite spending an average of $4,750 in incentives per car in October, sales stayed flat.) They need the cash, and the foot traffic.
After logging into www.vwdieselinfo.com, owners can input their car’s information and, in four weeks, receive their compensation. It’s one small, expensive step down a long road to recovery. Much like the other tchochkes Target check-out line, giftcards won’t solve anything. But everyone loves a free lunch. (Yes, even at Chili’s).
Some incensed customers, like scorned lovers, will throw rationale out the window and chop up the dealer-specific cards in a fit of I’m never wearing your Nirvana tee again! That’s fine—why wear a swindler’s logo on your forehead? Others, sad but optimistic, will layer on merch and use the unrestricted debit on a deep fryer for Thanksgiving’s turkey. Even in a compromised situation, a gift is a gift. And ‘tis the season for gratitude.