In November, gifting is all any retailer wants to talk about. But come January, it's a forgotten topic. And that's a missed marketing opportunity for retailers, especially department stores.

Fact is that the $253 billion-a-year gifting market — the buying of gifts for family and friends — is a year-round business, with 60 percent of the typical consumer's $2,062 annual gifting budget spent between January and October, according to Unity Marketing.

With the total accounting for 10 percent of the consumer economy in 2002, retailers should emphasize gift-giving for everyday occasions: birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, new baby, housewarming, just-because, romance and a myriad of other celebrations. Valentine's Day, for example, is the third most widely gifted holiday after Christmas and Mother's Day, according to Unity Marketing research.

Gift-giving offers retailers a double payback: The giver, of course, purchases an item, adding money to the sales coffers. And the recipient, if pleased with the gift, might visit the store to see what else they like there and buy something themselves. It's better than word-of-mouth advertising.

Grabbing gifters

Most gifters shop at discount department stores, including warehouse clubs, dollar stores and discount mass merchants. The traditional department store, such as JCPenney, Sears and Macy's is the second most-popular choice. Gift shoppers turn to department stores more frequently than specialty gift stores because they satisfy more of the shoppers' criteria — price being the most important.

It's no surprise then that discount department stores rank first. Department stores with their special sales and promotions also provide value. Dedicated gift stores, on the other hand, often don't offer as many bargains.

The second-most important criteria is ease of shopping. Often, consumers will buy gifts at stores where they frequently shop. Because they know the terrain, they can find something fast. Finally, having a wide selection of gifts and the ease of returns are considered important factors in choosing where to buy a gift.

The emotional connection

Gift shopping is the ultimate in ‘emotional consumerism.’ Gifts represent a way to express one's emotions and feelings. When gift shoppers are looking to buy a gift, they want to find not only something that the recipient will like, but also something that they are unlikely to buy for themselves.

The most popular gifts are books, toys, sporting goods, video/audio equipment, cameras, computers and games. Next in popularity are clothes and accessories, such as purses and wallets, or jewelry and watches.

Ultimately, the key to what makes a good gift is how it connects with the recipient. From the most practical gift to the most extravagant or frivolous, a good gift is something that will be appreciated and valued by the receiver.

The department store — with its ability to cross-merchandise and offer emotionally evocative products in many different settings — can capture more gift spending as they select merchandise with gifting in mind. Most department stores only allocate a small space for specialty gift merchandise. Stores would be be rewarded by building a loyal gift shopping customer who would return again and again for their year-round gift giving needs, as well as creating the potential for the giver's recipients to also shop at the same store for their future gifting needs.

PRESENTS AREN'T JUST FOR THE HOLIDAYS

PAM DANZIGER
is president of Stevens, Pa.-based Unity Marketing, a consulting firm specializing in consumer insights for luxury marketers. She is the author of Why People Buy Things They Don't Need and is working on her next book, Let Them Eat Cake: Marketing Luxury to the Masses, which will be published in 2005.

Go After the Gift-Giver

Seven tips for boosting gift business and making it a year-round traffic driver.

Gifters want quality and craftsmanship, uniqueness and an item that expresses their and the receivers' individuality. Giving the shopper a way to customize the gift and to add a special touch just for the recipient will be rewarded. To help them, you must:

  1. Provide good maps and guides for shoppers to navigate the store. A computerized kiosk allows shoppers to type in what they want and get a listing of the departments in the store where they should look is helpful. Effective use of end cap displays or centrally located tables with good gift ideas draws crowds.

  2. Make gift cards an important part of your marketing strategy. Cards should connect emotionally, displaying popular licensed themes, such as “Harry Potter,” “Lord of the Rings” or other art that the individual will want to give and receive.

  3. Recognize that may gift buyers are always out and about, grazing for new ideas. They buy and stash away gifts all year.

  4. Offer the personal touch. Since most retailers are depersonalizing shopping, retailers that put the personal back into it will be greatly rewarded.

  5. Ensure sales staff know the stock and can intelligently interview shoppers. The goal of gift retailing is to have the right item, at the right price, for the right person on the right occasion.

  6. Be on the leading edge in your product lines and get rid of last year's merchandise, so that when the holiday rush hits, shoppers won't see your store looking tired.

  7. Presentation counts. Gift wrapping services can even become a new profit center, if you think in terms of upscale luxury gift wrap. And make sure your store's name is included somewhere in the package, either on the box, gift card or gift receipt.