Tag Archives: surprise

Summer Camp Gifts

I never went to summer camp. So I’m living vicariously through my 10-year-old niece. Today she embarks on a week of hiking and horseback riding, campfires and canoeing, and s’mores and swimming. Of course, I wouldn’t know anything about the summer heat, mosquito bites, pouring rain, poison ivy, cabin chores and creaky bunk beds. But I imagine she might feel homesick, so she will receive a summer camp care package from her Uncle Gift Giving Guy and Savvy Auntie (tm). I browsed several sites for summer camp gifts and chose Beyond Bookmarks, which offers the “funner size” of the Camp Life care package for Teens and Tweens. This summer camp gift package includes:

  • Chucknuka Uglydoll in purple
  • Hangman travel game by Magnetic Poetry
  • Waterproof playing cards
  • Carabiner (clip-on) pen
  • 16-ounce water bottle
  • Lip balm with sunscreen
  • Clip flashlight (with batteries included)
  • Mosquito repellent wrist band
  • Glow necklace
  • Water squirting frog toy
  • Beach Safe waterproof storage tube on a lanyard
  • Green bandanna (which doubles as wrapping instead of tissue paper)
  • Fill-in-the-blank thank you note

You can customize your care package with add-on items like an autograph pillowcase with black fabric marker, friendship bracelet kits, binoculars, glow sticks and seek-a-word puzzle books. If you want to treat your camper’s cabin mates, add in a small gift for them when you order the care package. Before you order from Beyond Bookmarks, make sure you have the shipping address and the phone number for the summer camp. If the camp only uses a post office box, select U.S. Postage Service for shipping. (UPS cannot ship to a P.O. box.) If camp is a few weeks away, you can schedule delivery for a future date. Don’t forget to add a personal gift tag message. From your shopping cart, click the red  “Add Gift Tag Message” button. Type in the “to” and “from” names. You have a 100-character limit on your gift message.

I can’t wait for the letter from camp from our niece.

Shoptimism and The Perfect Gift

Shopping is an act of hope. Buy a gift and you presume the dollars you spend now you’ll replenish in the future. Despite all of the marketing machinations, shopping helps us fulfill needs: expressing ourselves, being social and having fun. Lee Eisenberg advances these ideas in his book, Shoptimism: Why the American Consumer Will Keep on Buying No Matter What. Like endless options at a mega-mall, this book catalogs hundreds of factoids and presents views from academics, marketing professionals, and consumerism critics.

Here are excerpts from Shoptimism, offering insights on gift giving.

  • “We give gifts ‘coded’ to express ‘positive emotions,’ depending on the occasion. For birthdays, housewarmings, at the end-of-year holidays, we give gifts coded ‘Joy.’ For graduations and retirements, we give gifts coded ‘Pride.’ For hospitalizations and going-away parties, we give gifts coded ‘Hope.’ And on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s and Father’s Day — also at funerals — we give gifts coded ‘Affection.’ And, yes, on all of the above as well as other occasions, we give gifts coded (you can always tell) ‘Obligation.'”
  • “The reasons we bestow gifts, according to respondents: they enable us to express pleasure or show friendship (42 percent); they are means by which we obtain or bestow pleasure (27 percent); because we feel obligated to (15 percent).”
  • “Money — not china or kitchen appliances — has become the wedding gift of choice, a development that the Romantic buyer in me takes as unwelcome news.”
  • “Each of us, on average, spends a couple of thousand dollars a year on gifts, roughly half of it during the ‘Hard Eight,’ that is the eight-week holiday shopping season.”
  • “Lisa is a friend who lives in New York City, a talented novelist, a huge-hearted wife and mom, smart, funny, sardonic, immensely kind…. Everyday shopping leaves her cold…. But there’s one kind of Buy at which Lisa excels, and that’s gifting. I ask Lisa whether she gives gift cards. Yes, turns out she does, but only as birthday presents her kids give to their friends, cards exchangeable for music and books. Otherwise, when Lisa shops for gifts she says she looks for the ‘unexpected.’ Stalking the unexpected requires a lively imagination and a grasp of the quirks of one’s circle of gift getters. It’s ‘an all-year-round, any-kind-of-weather sport,’ she reports. ‘Because the interests and tastes of my friends and family vary, the hunt for great gifts takes me from clothing boutiques to electronics stores, crafts fairs to eBay.’ But where she buys takes a backseat to what she buys. ‘I would like to think that if the presents I purchase are all laid out on a table, unwrapped, the people for whom they were intended would know instantly which presents were theirs.'”
  • “Lisa uncannily reflects what experts say are the keys to gift-giving prowess. [Professor] Russell Belk… says that a quintessential gift satisfies six criteria, which together confirm that Lisa doesn’t just give good gift, she gives perfect gift…”
  • “1. The perfect gift requires us to make an ‘extraordinary sacrifice.’ By ‘sacrifice,’ Belk doesn’t mean that we need to pawn our departed mother’s handmade quilts to help pay for the $7,000 doghouse with an Italian leather armchair (Neiman Marcus offered one in a recent Christmas gift catalog). ‘Sacrifice’ needn’t call for financial sacrifice. In Lisa’s case, sacrifice comes when she puts aside a challenging section of the novel she’s writing to make time to explore an antiques barn, where she once found a 1940s telephone for her daughter, a thoroughly modern adolescent who finds movies and Broadway musicals of that period irresistible.”
  • “2. The giver of a perfect gift wishes ‘solely to please the recipient.’ The perfect gift isn’t one that begs for reciprocation or proclaims that you’re one hell of a big-time spender. The perfect gift, Belk says, is about the recipient, not about you. Lisa gets that. One year she came upon a mourning locket offered on eBay. There was an ‘H’ engraved on it. Lisa’s stepmother’s late beloved dog was named Harry. Lisa bought the piece, placed a picture of Harry inside, and gave it to her stepmother on Christmas morning.”
  • “3. The perfect gift is a ‘luxury.’ By ‘luxury,’ Belk doesn’t mean that the perfect gift need be spattered with VLs [Louis Vuitton] or interlocking Cs [Chanel]. In this context a luxury is anything that isn’t strictly a necessity. To buy and give someone a pair of underwear or a mop and a bucket is thoughtful if the recipient’s in need of them. But gifts such as these don’t exactly communicate that the recipient is in some way extraordinary….”
  • “4. The perfect gift is appropriate to the recipient. All of Lisa’s above-cited gifts qualify as appropriate and then some. As was the canvas tote she once bought for her friend Cathy. On the side were the words ‘It Is Was It Is,’ a phrase that Cathy happens to use inveterately. What can be more appropriate than letting someone know you actually listen to what they say, right down to their asides and throwaway lines?”
  • “5. The perfect gift is ‘surprising.’ If surprise weren’t universally appreciated, Belk says, gift wrap would never have come into being. Surprise is why we love getting presents on days that aren’t birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, Mother’s or Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Grandparents’ Day, or any of the Sell Side-manufactured giving days. Last year Lisa’s daughter Elizabeth performed in a school production of The Sound of Music. While such an occasion doesn’t require a gift, many of us buy unsurprising bouquets for our pint-sized leading ladies and would-be prima ballerinas. Lisa didn’t spring for a bunch of carnations; she bought Elizabeth a pair of glove forms. Why? ‘So I could give her a big hand.'”
  • “6. The perfect gift is one that the recipient desires. Belk says that we don’t have to jump through hoops to give a perfect gift. Santa didn’t get to be Santa by ripping children’s wish lists into shreds. The words ‘It’s just what I always wanted!” are confirmation that you’ve bagged a perfect gift.”

Related Post: Gift Flow, or What Makes a Great Gift

A Perfect Gift from Buckle

How does a retailer defy gravity, posting quarterly sales increases in recession while the competition falls flat? My guess is customer service with great products. And that store bucking the economic trend? Buckle.

I have to admit, I have not visited Buckle, an upscale clothing store known for its designer denim for young men and women. But my MBA marketing professor has, and he shared this story in class.

My professor and his wife were searching the mall for a gift for their seventeen-year-old daughter. (“And you know how hard that is,” he said. “Seventeen-year-olds are impossible to shop for.”) They stroll past Buckle, and he stops. Turning back, he describes to his wife how Buckle is thriving in an abysmal retail economy. Maybe there’s a gift in there for their daughter. “Let’s check this out,” he said.

So begins one of the best retail experiences my professor has encountered. The sales teammate (Buckle’s term) listened and asked questions about their daughter. From the nearly 1,000 denim options for women, she picked a pair that she assured them that their daughter would love. The designer jeans were more expensive than they were used to paying, but they agreed. The sales teammate offered to gift wrap the jeans and did so. Twenty minutes later, my professor and his wife left Buckle with the “perfect gift.”

Fast forward to the daughter receiving the gift, with the parents looking on. Removing the gift wrap, she saw the tell-tale cardboard box that signals “clothing.” Her initial expression read, “Oh no, my parents bought me clothes!” Pushing on, she opened the box and held up the jeans. She is stunned.

Finally, she said, “These are cool.”

“We got them at Buckle,” my professor added.

“Wow. These are very cool.”

The Buckle sales teammate was absolutely right: the daughter cherishes her new jeans, the perfect gift. Maybe that’s how a retailer survives this downturn.

A Half-dozen Bouquet for Her Half-birthday

Today is my wife’s half-birthday. That’s literally the 182.5-day mark until her next birthday. Yeah, I know, the point-five part is a bit too much, but the Half-birthday Calculator makes it easy to find the date. And it’s a great reason to give an unexpected gift. I sent my wife a bouquet of Gerbera daisies — a half-dozen, of course — to her workplace.

Related Posts: Giving Flowers,
Celebrate un-birthdays and half birthdays

Subtly Guess Gifts or Simply Ask about Gifts?

Crystal ball gazing. Detective work. Espionage. Gift recon. These are all metaphors to convey the subtle mind reading game that is choosing gifts. But what about the direct approach? Why not simply ask my wife, “Honey, what do you want for your birthday?” Then go get that present.

I would argue for the element of surprise, the reward of effort, and the value of thoughtfulness. Still, underlying these defenses is an unspoken norm that you just don’t do that.

But I stumbled on a comment on Ask MetaFilter that made me see these approaches in a different light. Some people, like my wife and me, were raised in a “Guess Culture.” (You watch for hints or match interests with what you guess the giftee will like.) And some people were raised in an “Ask Culture.” (You flat-out ask what gifts can you give.)


From tangerine at Ask MetaFilter, responding to a woman’s direct request to stay in an acquaintance’s New York City apartment.

This is a classic case of Ask Culture meets Guess Culture.

In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it’s OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t even have to make the request directly; you’ll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.

All kinds of problems spring up around the edges. If you’re a Guess Culture person — and you obviously are — then unwelcome requests from Ask Culture people seem presumptuous and out of line, and you’re likely to feel angry, uncomfortable, and manipulated.

If you’re an Ask Culture person, Guess Culture behavior can seem incomprehensible, inconsistent, and rife with passive aggression.

Obviously she’s an Ask and you’re a Guess. (I’m a Guess too. Let me tell you, it’s great for, say, reading nuanced and subtle novels; not so great for, say, dating and getting raises.)

Thing is, Guess behaviors only work among a subset of other Guess people — ones who share a fairly specific set of expectations and signalling techniques. The farther you get from your own family and friends and subculture, the more you’ll have to embrace Ask behavior. Otherwise you’ll spend your life in a cloud of mild outrage at… the Cluelessness of Everyone.


I will stick with my tiptoeing and divining gift clues, but it’s interesting to see a different perspective. Are you inclined to guess or ask for gift ideas?