How to avoid giving bad holiday gifts

December 18, 2019

By JoAnne Klimovich Harrop | Trib Live, Tribune-Review

We’ve all been there – heading to the store to return a gift the day after Christmas, because it was the wrong size, the wrong color, or the just plain wrong present.

Nobody wants to be the person who gives the bad holiday gift. But how is it truly avoidable?

Think before you buy, said Audrey Guskey, a Duquesne University marketing professor and consumer trends expert.

Take for instance the recent controversy over a Peloton advertisement where a man gives his wife one of the company’s high-end exercise stationary bicycles as a gift.

The ad faced an avalanche of criticism — some called it sexist.

To avoid that kind of backlash, know what the recipient likes and also, understand your relationship to that person because that will help you find the perfect item, Guskey said.

“If you look at self-help things or books, people don’t want you to tell them they have an issue,” she said. “For example, I don’t like to cook and if someone buys me this intense, large book ‘The Joy of Cooking,’ this would be an insult to me because I would never open it up.”

There’s a lot of unopened books out there, given as gifts, she said.

According to the National Retail Federation, more than half of shoppers – 55% — say they will return or exchange any unwanted gifts or holiday items within the first month after receiving them. The vast majority, 80%, prefer to make returns and exchanges in stores, and 74% say they are likely to purchase something else while returning or exchanging an unwanted gift. Consumers surveyed in November said that they returned 6% of the items they received during the holidays in 2018, according to the federation.

Keep in mind a person’s interests and hobbies when looking for a gift.

The relationship you have with the individual is also an important factor when considering how personal a gift you can give, Guskey said.

“You would not buy your boss pajamas or give wrinkle cream to the neighbor,” she said. “That might be considered offensive.”

There is still time to get the right gift. This Saturday — called Super Saturday, as it’s the last before Christmas — has become the biggest shopping day of the year, according to the National Retail Federation.

“We expect an impressive turnout by procrastinators and those who just want to take advantage of really good deals,” said National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay, in a statement. “While many people started holiday shopping early, those who waited until Thanksgiving weekend are feeling the pressure due to the limited number of days this year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But there is still time to catch up.”

People return and/or regift 20 percent of presents, said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director Strategic Resource Group, a New York-based retail and consumer goods consulting firm.

He said the number one gift item is clothing, with gift cards a close second.

“Giving clothes to non-family members is not a good idea because with lots of garments made offshore, the sizing is not consistent to U.S. sizing,” he said. “And with 73% of men and 60% of women overweight in this country, a lot of the items won’t fit.”

Sporting gift ideas are becoming less and less popular because people are obsessed with their mobile devices – from iPhones and iPads to laptops and desktop computers — and are not necessarily interested in working out, he said. A young person’s attention span is 45 seconds or less, he said.

“Buying something like a baseball glove is a tough gift because the person has to find lots of other people to play with and that’s difficult in today’s world,” he said. “A basketball or bat is OK, because it is something people can play with on their own.”

Gift cards are popular and good gifts, but make sure you don’t buy one from a store that’s going out of business. Flickinger said sometimes people don’t research the status of a company before they purchase a gift card.

“Buying a specific restaurant gift card can be tricky because the person you are giving it to might have a gluten allergy or might not eat meat,” he said. “Restaurants also go out of business, so check before you buy.”