Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wedding Gift Registries: Efficient or Wasteful?

When I’m invited to a wedding, I usually buy the happy couple a gift from their wedding gift registry. Until recently, I just assumed that the list contained items the couple really want at prices they consider reasonable. Recent discussions with two couples cast doubt on my assumptions.

In both cases, the couples’ attitude seemed to be “we might as well put everything on the list and see if someone pays for it.” It was clear that they didn’t concern themselves much with whether they really want the items, and they certainly didn’t care about price.

In the case of one of the couples, I had a chance to continue the discussion a little further, and it became clear that the salesperson helping them create their list definitely encouraged the “put it on the list and see what happens” attitude.

It seems obvious enough that this approach is bad for both gift buyers and the couple getting married. Gift-buying guests have a limited amount of money to spend. If the registry contains expensive things that the couple don’t really want, then money gets diverted away from the things they do want.

It isn’t surprising that some couples compile their gift registries carefully and some foolishly. But which is more common? I would have bet on “carefully” before listening to these two couples. I can’t say that I’ve discussed wedding gift registries with very many people, and so these two couples represent a fairly high proportion of my very limited sample space.

I’m interested in reader experiences on this subject. It seems doubtful that anyone has collected data on the thoughtfulness of gift registry lists, but if anyone has, I’d like to hear about that too.


  1. Putting together the registry was quite hard: I really didn't want to put things on that we didn't need/really want... but there was a lot of "encouragement" and various "rules of thumb" that in order for the very last guest to have a wide selection (rather than getting "stuck" with the last gift on the registry), we had to register for an obscene amount of stuff.

    There were definitely things we registered for that were more expensive/upscale than we would have purchased ourselves (e.g.: luggage), and we were actually relieved when nobody bought that for us. Especially since we already live on our own and so already have a household established with all the household goodies, it was really hard to find things to put on the registry that we would actually buy ourselves at full price. After all, if it was something we really needed, we would have probably bought it already along the way. That will be different for couples just starting out, but I don't know how many of those are left in this day and age. Most of what we registered for was stuff that fell under the category of "it might be neat to have" or "for guests", which IMHO was a pretty weak reason to register for stuff. Now we have a guest coffee maker (neither of us drinks coffee), a variety of guest serving bowls and trays, guest towels, guest sheets, and special guest tea towels to put out in the kitchen.

    Since our reception was not in the same city that we live in, thankfully many of our guests gave us gifts of cash or gift cards which are much easier to transport, and which we can use down the road as a down payment for our house (which is a more important thing for us than another toy for the kitchen).

    Of the guests that did buy us physical gifts, nearly half bought something that wasn't on the registry. We got two repeats, and we're not sure if that's because some guests looked up the registry, but didn't buy it through the Bay, or if the Bay didn't properly manage crossing items off the registry, or if they bought something on their own initiative that just happened to match an item on the registry.

    The sentimental types want to get/give something physical, so they can be constantly reminded that aunt so-and-so got us those guest towels, and we'll think of her every time we use them... of course, then they get the weird compulsion to pull out whatever it was if that person happens to come over ("Oh, Jane, I was just doing some vacuuming, come in. Jill's with you, wow, that's great. I suddenly feel like waffles, you guys?")

    After going through it, I'm going to try to give cash at any subsequent wedding I get invited to.

  2. Potato: It sounds like you got drawn into including questionable items (to a small degree) in your gift registry. Maybe people should register at a bank with a list of 1) free banking for a year, and 2) a hundred copies of $100 towards the down payment on a house :-)

  3. Actually, I tried to do that! I didn't like the Bay's registry from the gift buyer's side of things, and was hesitant to go with them, so I found a freeware gift registry program (phpgiftregistry on sourceforge IIRC) that I put on my web server. In it we could register for anything, including cash, and could even rank things by importance and leave comments (such as "this specific model please" or "any type, any colour, as long as coffee comes out the bottom"). I liked the flexibility it offered... unfortunately it was ugly, required interent access, and was not 100% intuitive, so it was vetoed.

  4. I think that most people start off fairly serious with their registries, but quickly get caught up in adding things to the list that they don't necessarily want or need. While it is nice to have a registry list to tell you exactly what to buy, I can't help but think that it takes some of the fun and creativity out of gift buying. The gift you give isn't an individualized expression of what you think the couple would like, it becomes a random selection from a distorted list.

    With that said, the HUGE benefit of a registry is that you greatly reduce the chance for duplication. Anyone who has received 3 toasters on their wedding day knows what I mean.

  5. The idea of the registry is so that there is no duplication of gifts... giving money / gift vouchers makes much more sense to me. We received a mix of gift vouchers and fancy plates, picture frame etc. for our wedding - my Mom gave a small gift and and £1000 to buy what we wanted. My brother gave us a cookbook and a painting he painted. I guess the registry might make sense if someone has a big wedding in a culture where money gifts are unacceptable.

  6. mOOm: I'm glad the cash gifts worked out for you. I appreciated cash gifts when I got married too. I agree that the customer's motivation with a gift registry is to avoid duplication. However, the store's motivation is different. They would like you to buy many high-priced items. This makes it important for the happy couple to be careful about what they put in their registry.