In which she joins the ranting multitudes on Apple’s ridiculous iTunes gift card policies for Canadians buying apps

by DaniGirl on January 11, 2010 · 11 comments

in Consumer culture

So I got an iPod Touch for Christmas, as I mentioned. And, as I mentioned, even though I hadn’t even asked for it and when I opened it, wasn’t entirely convinced I wanted it, in the two weeks I’ve had it I’ve come to love it dearly.

It didn’t take long for me to start exploring the app store, and most of the apps I downloaded were the freebies. (I have to admit, I am highly impressed by what you can get for free. And, in a delicious coincidence, my new task at work is to figure out how to make our Web site more mobile-friendly, and even look into creating an app of our own. Wicked cool, and wickedly serendipitous.) But, of course, there were a few games that sucked me in. I had no problem forking over $4.99 for Sim City, and I think Tetris set me back $2.99. The one I play most often is Boggle — I think that set me back another $2.99. I didn’t mind splurging a bit on games, though, because Beloved also gave me a $25 iTunes gift card to go along with it.

(Many of you are nodding along, because you know what’s coming. I have to admit, I had no idea, but I am peeved.)

I didn’t realize anything was amiss until I happened to see the $1.99 and $2.99 charges to my Visa card. Apparently, in Canada you cannot use an iTunes gift card to buy apps. That is annoying in and of itself, but to me even more annoying is that I had no idea. Not when we gave our niece and nephew $25 each gift cards for Christmas to use on their new iPods, and not when I entered my iTunes password to purchase the apps. It did not give me any sort of indication that I was bypassing my $40 gift card balance and instead charging the purchases to my Visa card. A friend of mine with an 11 year old didn’t notice until there were nearly $100 worth of charges on his credit card, so I guess I got off lucky.

So I started poking around on the Internet, figuring there must be some sort of workaround out there somewhere, but there isn’t one that I could find. What I did find was post after post after post of angry consumers, many of whom had contacted Apple and received paltry compensation like a credit for a free song or two. Apple seems to be claiming that they are unable to allow the use of gift cards to purchase apps because of what one Apple customer service rep called “Canadian Commerce Laws”.

Then I found a guy named Jim Whitelaw who showed a hell of a lot of initiative and managed to get Industry Minister Tony Clement to address the issue in a letter to his own MP. I mean, if the Minister of Industry doesn’t think it’s a problem, and if Sony and Nintendo and other companies allow the use of gift cards to purchase games and software, I have a hard time understanding why Apple is choosing to draw this particular line in the sand.

I’ve had lots of reasons to interact with Apple over the years, and I’ve always found them reasonably responsive. But this totally taints my opinion of them. I’ve been seriously considering both an iPhone and a Mac, but if this is how Canadian Apple customers get treated, then I’m not sure I want to invest any more of my time or money with Apple. It’s a bit of a tarnish on my love of my shiny new iPod, too. I’ve written to Apple (feel free to do so yourself if you’re as ticked as I am — they say they are responsive to customers) but don’t expect anything more than a cursory response.

Consider yourself warned, if you haven’t already found out about this one the hard way like many of my friends already have. The policy itself is bad enough, but the lack of information is inexcusable.

Edited to add: while Apple did respond to me, the response was rather unsatisfactory. The first e-mail told me, rather unhelpfully, that gift cards could not be used to redeem apps in Canada. When I replied that my initial query stated that very fact, and that I was asking instead about the “why” of the policy, I got a second response that said:

According to Apple policies, canadian customer’s are not able to purchase Applications using Store Credit. I know this must be really frustrating.

I encourage you to use the iTunes Feedback page to submit your feedback below, it may help us to improve our customer satisfaction. We will be considering your feedback very carefully:
http://www.apple.com/feedback/itunesapp.html

Your efforts to share your feedback are very much appreciated.

So, I took their advice and I encourage you to do so, too. Have at ‘er, bloggy peeps!


{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John Overall January 11, 2010 at 10:27 am

Hello Danigirl,
Sorry to see you have come apon this issue with the iTunes giftcards in Canada the same way so many of us have. Hopefully if Apple sees enough of these complains and upset consumers they will make a change. Thanks also for the link to my own soapbox version of this very annoying issue.

John Overall

2 Alexandre January 11, 2010 at 10:51 am

I’m one of the posters you list as “angry.” I do admit I was frustrated and I did post another blog entry in which I expressed something close to anger. But it really was more about frustration and puzzlement than about genuine anger.
Like you, I simply don’t understand why they don’t tell us. Apple did change a few things since I bought my own gift card, last year, but they haven’t addressed the situation in a satisfactory way.
And it does decrease my satisfaction level with Apple. Overall, it’s relatively high. Apple products, by themselves, have mostly given me satisfaction. Apple itself has usually proven responsive enough. But this restriction on gift cards on the Canadian App Store, and especially the lack of information about it, does shed a new light on Apple, Inc.

The one explanation I saw which may come close to what is happening has to do with taxes. Apparently, taxes are included in prices for tunes (“songs” on the iTunes Store) but not in prices for apps. So it seems like Apple may be losing money when apps or games are purchased with gift cards. But what this doesn’t explain is why the Canadian App Store is the only which suffers from this nor does it explain how, as you say, Nintendo and Sony can pull it off. There’s still something strange, there. My guess would be that Apple overprotects itself or applies a rule too strictly. But I don’t know anything and they’re not helping.

Recently, a commenter on my blog said that s/he was eventually able to get a refund from Apple, after getting her/his credit card charged for app purchases despite having a gift card. No idea if other people can get the same. The song credits that Apple gave me last year are almost running out, so it wouldn’t make sense for me to ask for a refund. But people who haven’t used their gift card credits may be able to get refunds.

As for mobile apps, I’d say the timing is still quite good to develop them. Most people expect Apple to come out with some kind of iPhoneOS-compatible tablet. A mobile-friendly platform that you might develop, using the iPhone OS as a base, might be quite relevant once that tablet comes out. Otherwise, other mobile OS choices may be interesting, including Android. No idea how difficult it is to code the same app for both iPhoneOS and Android, but it might be a good way to hedge your bets.

3 Alex (h86) January 11, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Hello Danigirl,
As tweeted earlier, and as highlighted in the comment above, there IS something in the Canadian market rules (taxes or otherwise) that prevents the usage of an iTiune gift cards to be used for the apps… I, too was set back with this rule, but I also think it’s stated (in fine prints) on the cards that you can use them to purchase music (and not apps…).
Again, I agree that Apple could probable try to work around this for the sake of our peace and ease of use, but we can’t only blame them for this situation in my opinion 🙂
Alex.

4 Barrie January 11, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Count me among those masses as well. I don’t have a credit card, so no apps, games or software for me that isn’t free. Kind of makes the splurge for the larger gig ipod touch rather ridiculous. The canned responses are less than helpful but the lack of upfront information is inexcusable. I don’t imagine my whining and stomping of feet will help, but adding my voice to the complaints can’t hurt.
Barrie

5 Amber January 11, 2010 at 3:20 pm

My husband ran into this problem, as well. It’s pretty irritating, especially when someone buys you the gift card just for that very purpose. Argh!

6 annon January 11, 2010 at 3:20 pm

try jail breaking your iTouch, then you get everything for free.

7 Pamela Stewart January 12, 2010 at 1:05 am

Huh. Brutal. RT @DaniGirl: Did you know Cnds can't use an iTunes gift card to buy Apps? So not impressed! http://tinyurl.com/yd3nnof

8 tuneshop January 29, 2010 at 11:07 am

sell us itunes account(not itunes gift code) —http://www.aionwowbuy.com

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