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Six steps to nail gift-giving this Christmas - Sunday Life - December 5th, 2021

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

Article written by Dilvin Yasa

“Receiving and gifting gifts is an ancient tradition that shows kindness and caring. Worrying about the monetary value, what other people think or what impressions are being made detracts from this experience.”

Say what you like about SAS Australia and the likes of Ant Middleton, but if any activity is going to break people, it must surely be Christmas shopping with a lengthy list in hand. How do I find a gift that aligns with their current interests if I haven’t seen them since last Christmas? What do I buy for someone I’m no longer close to?

With this kind of mental anguish, it’s hardly a surprise that sales of gift cards in Australia continue to grow significantly year-on-year. According to Research & Markets analysts, the local gift card industry is tipped to rocket from $US5.4 billion this year to $US7.8 billion by 2025.

One person who understands the stress of Christmas shopping better than anyone is Rose Gallo, co-founder of The Gift Concierge, a service which helps people buy presents for their loved ones with minimal stress.

“People struggle mostly with lack of time and lack of inspiration,” she explains. “Christmas is a notoriously busy time – particularly with work, socialising and other commitments – and gift-giving is often left until the last minute, adding to the stress.”

Convinced you’re tougher than a hardened SAS soldier? It’s time to hit the shops. But first, check out our handy step-by-step guide on how to curate your very own gift list.

Step one: listen and observe

From the start of the year right up until Christmas Eve, your loved ones are sending clues as to what they’d like to find under the tree. Some may do this by explicitly telling you (according to a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology,recipients most appreciate the gifts they’ve actively asked for), but others will be more subtle.

“People often subconsciously give the kind of present they themselves would like to receive, so that is something to note,” says Dr Amanda Ferguson, the Sydney psychologist behind the popular podcast, Psych for Life.

“It’s also important to pay attention to their interests and conversation streams. Have they been talking about a gig they’re going to attend, or a motorbike they’ve been looking at? They are all clues that could help you zero in on the perfect gift.”

Step two: stalk your recipient

Fear not, this has less to do with sitting in a parked car outside your recipient’s home, and more to do with researching them online (and definitely in a non-creepy way).

“It isn’t difficult to find information on most people these days,” says Dr Ferguson. “With a quick google search, or a look at Facebook, you’ll quickly find out all sorts of things about them, from their interests and what they’re buying and selling, to where they like to shop and what they like to eat.

Some people have wish lists on Amazon, but you’ll probably have to dig a little deeper than that. See what kinds of books they’re recommending on Facebook, what they’re buying and posting about on Instagram and whether they’re keen on a particular topic on Reddit

Yes, you might feel weird doing this, but just remember that Christmas can make us all feel a little unhinged.

Step three: involve others

The other day, I came across a drum and bass playlist on the family TV, and you could have knocked me down with a feather when my husband of more than 15 years announced it was his.

“I know you don’t like this style of music so I keep it to myself,” he said, before revealing colleagues at work – unlike his unsuspecting wife – were aware of this interest. The point? Sometimes others know a different side to the recipient than you do.

If you’re feeling stuck, make phone calls or send emails to their parents, siblings, friends, significant other, children or work colleagues. A single conversation may reveal a treasure trove of ideas (and, quite possibly, a few secrets as well).

Step four: identify the message you want to communicate

When it comes to gift-giving, it really is the thought that counts. So if your present is an unsolicited gym membership, the last thing you want is to communicate with it is “I think you’ve overdone it on the pies and it’s time do something about it”.

“So much of gift-giving is in knowing the person, putting yourself in their shoes and remaining sensitive to what they have going on,” says Dr Ferguson. “If you know someone is trying to lose weight, you wouldn’t give chocolates. Or if you know someone is struggling financially, you wouldn’t respond with an over-the-top gift they could never hope to reciprocate.”

Before you create your shopping list, take some time to think about each person and what kind of message you would like them to receive through your gift, such as “I think you work incredibly hard and could do with a good laugh” or “I worry that we’ve grown distant and want to rectify that”.

Step five: consider the financials

Convinced you need to spend a set amount for your gift to be considered a “proper” present? A review of three studies, again in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found that price had no impact on a recipient’s appreciation. The only people who appeared to be impressed by the high price tag were the gift-givers.

“A great gift doesn’t come down to how much you spend, as long as you’ve made it unique, thoughtful and personal – and that doesn’t have to mean with their name or initials,” says Gallo.

“Receiving and gifting gifts is an ancient tradition that shows kindness and caring. Worrying about the monetary value, what other people think or what impressions are being made detracts from this experience.”

Not sure how much to spend? People can feel awkward if they receive a present that is well outside of their usual budget, explains Dr Ferguson. “Most people are looking to equalise the exchange, that is, opening a present and hoping it’s of equal value to what they have given.”

Her advice? Use the gift the recipient gave you last Christmas as a guide. If they spent $30 on a book, then that’s the amount you’ve got to work with.

Step six: use a gifting service

Of course, if you’re still not sure whether you’re up to the task, there are services such as The Gift Concierge to help you. “Our process is simple,” says Gallo. “We ask a few questions about the recipient to get an understanding of who they are, present gift options, then offer a complete gift sourcing, shopping and wrapping service for individuals, small and business.”

And remember, too, that if gifts can communicate love, commitment and joy, they can also communicate “farewell” if chosen wisely. Ask Dr Ferguson if buying a $30 scented candle for someone you were once close to is the modern-day equivalent of a “Dear John” letter, and she answers in the affirmative.

“It isn’t the candle that’s the problem – a scented candle can be a lovely present for someone you don’t know all that well, such as your child’s teacher. But if you’ve always gone out of your way to buy something that’s in line with their interests and you suddenly present something quite generic, it can send the signal that you’re ready to distance yourself.”

Got someone you’re keen to remember fondly, but no more than that? It’s certainly food for thought.

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