A bald man is frustrated that he got a haircare gift card in a Zeek commercial. A bald man is frustrated that he got a haircare gift card in a Zeek commercial. In a scene from a Zeek commercial, a bald man is frustrated that he got a haircare gift card. (Photo: YouTube)

Got an unused gift card? We've got a place for them

A new online marketplace is solving a $100 billion problem.

We've all been there. Whether it's for a birthday or a holiday, we've received a gift card to a store we never frequent. $25 for Bob's Bass Shop? No, thank you. $50 worth of passes to a movie theater on the opposite side of town? Not interested. Indeed, there’s an estimated $100 billion in unused gift cards globally. So what do you do with all those unclaimed gift cards?

That's where Zeek, a tech startup based in Israel, enters the picture. The mobile app and website allows users to buy gift cards and vouchers from their favorite brands at a discount and sell unwanted gift vouchers for cash, providing a high-tech solution to an age-old problem. Brands on the sites include Amazon, Starbucks and IKEA, as well as the iTunes store.

"You forget gift cards in a drawer, you forget them in the wallet, you just forget about them altogether," said co-founder Daniel Zelkind, who has an MBA in finance and risk management. "We just saw this issue as something we could solve relatively easily." Their solution was to create a marketplace: people who don't want the gift cards can sell them and offer them to people who do want them at a discount.

The company sees a particular uptick during the holidays. "Thirty percent of the vouchers you get for Christmas are done – nobody's going to use them ever," Zelkind said. "When you get a gift voucher what can you do with them?" The answer seems to be Zeek, as the company now has upwards of 100,000 users.

Zelkind and his partners initially launched Zeek in their native Israel to test it out and later expanded into the United Kingdom. "The growth has been exponential," said Zelkind, an alumnus of Tel Aviv University. And thanks to a new investment just announced this month, the company has its sights set on expanding into other markets.

Dr. Elliot Berlin runs a chiropractic office in Los Angeles. "During the holidays, as an individual I received many gift cards and as a business owner we sell a bunch," he told From The Grapevine. "I don't have a use for some of the cards that I get and I would love the opportunity to switch them out for something more practical. On the business side, we love when recipients use their gift cards; oftentimes it's an opportunity to connect with new clients. If a recipient doesn't want to use it, we'd love for them to get it into the hands of someone who does."

LIkewise, Anita Atwell Seate of New Freedom, Pa., sees Zeek as a practical tool. "I’ve actually been thinking a lot about this in the past few months,” she told us. "You can buy gift cards for places you already go – like Target or Southwest Airlines or the supermarket – and it’ll end up saving you a lot of money because you can buy them cheaper on Zeek and other sites like it."

Uri Levine is the Israeli entrepreneur who founded Waze, which uses crowdsourced information in its popular navigation app. He was also one of the initial investors in Zeek. “Again and again we’re seeing that the power of community trumps other more traditional, individual approaches,” he said. “Why hold only one piece, when together, we can see the whole puzzle?”

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Got an unused gift card? We've got a place for them
A new online marketplace called Zeek is solving a $100 billion problem.