Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Wedding Registries: Reclaimed and Reframed

Two years ago I wrote a column about my love-hate relationship with wedding registries – appreciating their efficiency and loathing their impersonal, overly directive tone. Here I am two years later, based on recent developments, happily updating my report. Our son Zach just married the lovely Becca, and I have had a ringside seat in their gifting experience. New options for registering work beautifully, giving the couple an opportunity to express more than just a catalogue of items, while still allowing guests to enjoy the ease of a registry.

Wedding guests have been trained to demand wedding registries. They are convenient; gifters are assured they are sending something the couple actually wants, end of story. Brides and grooms are therefore conditioned to provide registries, even if they don’t need or want much of anything. Newly married couples who have been through the experience advise that it’s smarter to proactively choose things than be passive and see what comes. Guests seem to divide on the question of giving items versus money. If you’re a cash giver (more common in some ethnic groups than others), just skip this column. No brides and grooms ever dislike cash – it’s always the right size, right color, and right design.

For the rest of us gifters who like to pick an item for the couple, the simplicity of a registry is appealing. Their downside, which I emphasized back in 2008, is that they can come across as cold and greedy. Since then I have learned wedding industrial complex marketing strategies. Stores provide brides and grooms with all kinds of premiums and incentives and then send the couple through the store with a laser gun to literally zap any item they like. The laser gun zapper technique is the favorite part of the whole experience for some of the grooms who do not enjoy any of the rest of the wedding planning. I was told that one big box store has created a 3:1 “formula” for gifts to guests, though I can’t document this absurdity. The result is an endless list of completely unprioritized gifts, without any commentary or way of knowing anything about the bride and groom other than their taste in pots, pans and sheets – generally way more luxurious than the ones we’ve all been using since in the 70’s.

Zach and Becca used alternativegiftregistry.org’s smart, clever registry which allowed them to manage the process, instead of being controlled by big box stores. They wrote a bit about their thinking about gifts, building on their friends Ethan and Joelle’s manifesto:

You'll see that some of these gifts won't come in boxes. It would be a gift to us if you:

* gave a donation to one of the organizations [which were listed] or

* helped us with a few household items or

* did something creative we haven't thought of yet or

* any combination of the above!

But needless to say, this is a celebration of love, not stuff. The greatest gift is your presence in our lives and at our celebration!

That said, people do like giving gifts. One great feature of this type of registry is that the brides/grooms can pick the items and link them to the internet site which will be the best provider; it’s not managed by any particular store. They also put up suggested items without links. My personal favorite was their request for a knife sharpener. “We hear it’s important to have a good sharpener for our knives. We don’t know a thing about what’s a good one, but will trust your judgment on this matter if you know something about it and want to give us one.” In one case they posted a 12”skillet, along with a strange fact – on Amazon, the skillet cost LESS with a top than the same skillet without the top. It makes sense that the bride and groom would be better informed than gifters, since they are the ones doing the research. A flexible registry allows everyone to take advantage of better deals, and shop where they like. If a couple likes handmade things from artists or craftsmen without web capacity, they can include a link to Etsy (a portal for handmade things), another way to personalize an Alternative Registry.

Another nice feature of the Alternative Gift Registry is that as soon as a gift is spoken for, Team Bride & Groom takes it off the list. Hence those who visit are greeted with a half dozen or so suggested gifts, not hundreds, many of which are listed as already “taken.” It requires that the brides and grooms stay on top of it, but it works very well. Couples can be open-ended – listing their chosen stainless pattern but not how many place settings, for example. Zach and Becca included items which were very small and a few high-end ones. This is how they’ve acquired a Kindle and a very cool under-the-counter NatureMill composter. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

What about gift certificates, not quite money but not quite an item? They included a list of stores where they frequently shop, some quite near to where they live. Many people were happy to send them shopping cards to those stores. They can combine all those gifts and get larger items, so it seems like a win/win. Gifters aren’t spending a lot of money on wasteful, needless shipping. Stores like gift certificates so much they ship them for free; why not, since they get all the cash up front?One store, Powell’s Book Store in Portland, OR, carries a huge inventory of used books which can all ship in one order. Hey, Philadelphians, did you know you can buy and give a Weavers Way Gift Card? One piece of advice: keep careful track of all the serial numbers on the gift cards, in case they are lost or stolen.

Some people found their Alternative Gift Registry a little mysterious, since it required following unfamiliar instructions. In these cases, folks simply went to stores they like and sent whatever they wanted. That’s precisely what a lot of people do anyway. Alternative Registries can be used for any occasion such as birthday, graduation, birth or Bar Mitzvah.

image from www.OccupationGifts.com


Chava Gal-Or said...

I love your blog!!!! Each and every time I read it, I feel joy at the resources you share!!!

Mazel tov and may Zack and Becca be filled with joy and may you all be blessed!

penn said...

yes, I love the alternative wedding registry. I'm hoping to use that when I someday come to wedding time :-) glad you guys had a good experience with it.

also, thanks for the composter info. I so want one! I will be saving my pennies.

Jada said...

Hmm I love the alternative registry too! We did one at myregistry.com and added items from Etsy, Target, and Williams Sonoma (for that delicious Kitchen Aid mixer). We had a cash gift fund for our honeymoon and between you and me cash gifts are always welcome! They helped out a lot to help us enjoy a memorable trip to Alaska :)