You know Coinstar: they’re the company happy to take away strange metal money discs that you keep in a jar, taking a modest 10.9% fee, and exchanging them for cash. Sure, the fee is a little high, but their kiosks can be found in convenient locations, and you can avoid the fee by cashing in your coins for gift cards instead. Now Coinstar is bringing the operation full circle: they’re installing Coinstar Exchange kiosks nationwide. They don’t accept gift certificate codes from Coinstar machines, which would really be full circle, but do accept physical plastic gift cards from a number of big retailers.
The company’s cut? We’re not quite sure. The “offer” that customers get will probably depend on the gift card arbitrage markets that at that particular moment.
Coinstar’s parent company, Outerwall, also runs Redbox movie and game-rental kiosks and EcoATM phone trade-in kiosks. It’s that last business model that the gift card trade-in process resembles the most. In order to avoid becoming robotic fences for stolen mobile phones, the EcoATM has security procedures that remind us of Pennsylvania’s short-lived experiment with wine kiosks. A mysterious worker at a remote site checks users’ IDs against pictures that the kiosk takes of the person trying to sell a phone.
It sounds like Coinstar Exchange will use similar safeguards, which is either comforting or intrusive and creepy.
If this sort of thing appeals to you, and you don’t mind losing some of the face value of your gift cards, you can find Coinstar Exchange kiosks in more than 400 towns as of this writing.