Black Friday Thoughts on Gift Giving

I have a friend who speaks at HR conferences and meetings throughout the country. It is common for the organizers of these seminars and conferences to give speakers a thank-you gift of some kind.  When asked, my friend said that the best “speakers” gift s/he ever got was a $25 gift card.

Sounds pretty ordinary, doesn’t it?

My friend went on to explain that many conference organizers try to give things that are tied to the region in some way, or have some type of local significance. For example, a speaker at a conference in Louisville, KY, home of the Louisville Slugger baseball bat, might get a miniature baseball bat from the organizers as a thank-you gift. It sounds cute and thoughtful, until the speaker drags the bat to the airport and then tosses it in a trash can, because there is no way the TSA will let you have a bat on an airplane, and the speaker didn’t really want a baseball bat anyway.

It’s not the gift – it’s the thought that counts, right? But gifts like a miniature baseball bat beg the sarcastic question: what were you thinking? That’s the reason a nice, simple gift card from a retailer that sells just about everything was the perfect gift for my friend. It conveyed the proper thought, and was useful and desired by the recipient.

Considering the shopping and buying frenzy that surrounds Black Friday, the entire country is caught up in this idea that they can find the perfect gift at the perfect price, being cute and thoughtful to boot, if they plan properly and get up early enough.

Bullshit. And here’s why:

I love scarves. Anyone who knows me even casually can see this, because I wear them all of the time. But because I love them so much, I buy them a lot and have oodles of them. So if you go to Target on Black Friday and buy a scarf  for me, thinking it’s a great gift – you will probably be wrong. Either I won’t like the color, or the weight, or the shape, or I have 3 just like it.

So now I will have to make a trip to Target, where I will exchange the scarf for Sterlite storage containers. I use those babies everywhere, and I never have enough. And they are expensive. But they aren’t the kind of thing that anyone buys me as a gift.

Wouldn’t it have been easier on everyone if you had just gotten me a Target gift card – at your convenience – in the first place? Less expenditure of precious resources, like gas. Most certainly a time saver. And it isn’t any less “impersonal” than the scarf you got up to buy at 5 am. Since it is what I wanted in the first place, it’s highly personal.

Given the lengths of the return lines I see at the stores right after Christmas, I am not alone in wanting something other than what you bought me. So why do people persist in  this shopping and gift buying nightmare?

In this digital age, it’s super simple to give gift cards or electronic gift certificates. They save everyone time and resources. They’re always the right color and fit. They save precious resources, including time, which everyone wants more of.

Most importantly, they tell the recipient how you feel – which is what giving a gift is all about.