16 Dec 2010

Present Perfect (Part 2)

Do I have a gift-purchasing strategy in mind that I could share with you? Well, maybe not a strategy as such, although we'll find out in Part 3... Ha! I have been known to occasionally surpass myself and be well organised, spotting a nifty item back in early September and just buying it because it had the recipient's name written all over it (not literally of course). Other times, all I could manage was a last-minute panic trip down my local suburbia (rather than the more exclusive stores of this world)...

One year (2007) I did virtually all my gift purchases online but this resulted in my disappointment once I saw the actual products in the flesh (the recipients were probably too polite to mention theirs). Allow me to mention two anecdotes...

I had ordered my partner a Mathmos Thaw ice candle with a container system that you fill with water and place in the freezer compartment overnight. The next day, place a lit tealight in the middle of the ice circle for that frosty glow effect. I am not sure what I expected really with the whole shebang but this was more Blue Peter than Mathmos, and the 'Designed in England, Made in China' tag did not help the cause or restore my faith either (despite the fact that the Mathmos core products - the world-famous lava lamps - are manufactured in Britain, the consumer may wrongly assume this is rolled out to the rest of the Mathmos range). If 'Designed in England' is presented as an USP, how about 'Made in China'? I doubt this will add any credence, although I am all too aware that in this day and age I'd better get used to the China idea. Dear readers, what are your thoughts on the subject?

Back to my 2007 online Xmas shopping experience, I had ordered my parents what looked like a premium, design-led, solar-powered brushed aluminium garden post, from Plantes & Jardins. It did look impressive on picture, but when I actually viewed it after it had been delivered directly to my parents' address, it looked like a wasted shrunk copy of the 'real' McCoy from the picture. What upset me was that the product (+ branding + packaging) looked dirt-cheap, in fact I might as well have bought it from Poundland. It was neither high-end nor mid-range as per my intentions, despite costing me the equivalent of £60.00. The European engineering patent from the online product description might have caught my eye (and gained my trust and fooled me). Only when the package arrived had that 'Made in China' farce become unwanted reality.

After these episodes, my online gift-shopping came to a standstill and re-centred back to its less adventurous but trusted core values: flowers and chocolates, the tried-and-trusted albeit predictable special occasion void-filler gifts. But eh, who wants nasty surprises? So maybe those people who buy the shower gels, the foot scrubs and the festive socks have a point after all.

Silicon Valley... TV circuit board found discarded in the countryside
Now when we go round the stores looking for that inspired gift, yet are faced with the reality that the stores' buyers uninspiringly rehash the same old items (knick-knacks, shower gels, body lotions, festive socks, tea-light holders etc.) year on year, while we are faced with dilemmas of limited spending budget, clutter phobia, trinket phobia, home space restrictions, well-furnished homes reality (i.e. those recipients who have absolutely everything/ need nothing!), it is time to relegate the old auto-pilot buying habit patterns and start getting creative. I might have no strategy to offer but fortunately I have a few ideas up my sleeve to help you save face this Christmas.

So this is what I suggest: a magic list of presents that take no room, gather no dust, don't run the risk of going out of fashion, don't break, don't age badly, don't spoil the décor, or end up crashing down Oxfam's doorstep come Boxing Day. Although not every single item on my list will be appropriate to you or your recipients (some may even be deemed far-fetched), the presents are centred around the experiential service (yep that key-adjective from Part 1), and each of them is useful, meaningful and - indeed - relevant in its own right. (to be continued)

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