Wedding Rant: Gift Registries

September 5th, 2008 by Potato

Weddings are such a royal pain in the ass with so many finicky little details to work out, strange traditions to uphold, planning that takes years of (and off) your life, and everything, everything has to be coordinated. So you would think that at the very least, you get to register for an assload of gifts you might want, and that, if nothing else was, would be easy.

Unfortunately, not quite so much.

The concept of a gift registry is actually pretty good. Traditionally, kids marry when they’re young and stupid and still living at home. Their moving out day is just about the same time as their wedding day, so part of the tradition became to get presents for the new couple to help them get their household started. The whole community coming together to help these young people get their lives started off right. As the ages progressed and everything became more commercialized, it became a real hassle to get this going: people might end up with 4 fondue sets (or on PEI, a hundred embroidered pillowcases) and a complete mismash of other stuff. A registry allows a couple to get a complete set of things, without duplication. In exchange for taking on the administrative burden of running a registry, the store the couple registers at gets a near monopoly on thousands of dollars of gift purchases, as well as some continued word of mouth (oh yes, we registered at Store X). In theory, it’s a great system with win-win benefits.

I’ve been quite disappointed with the gift registries offered by major retailers lately. First off, you’re pretty much limited to one or two stores (trying to hand out 3+ gift registries to relatives just doesn’t work), and while the department stores can be relatively all-encompassing, they don’t quite have everything. Plus, we’ve had some trouble with HBC from the gift buyer’s point of view recently. HBC should be just about the perfect place to register at: a huge nationwide chain of stores that carries nearly everything from fine china to linens and even vacation packages. But they wouldn’t mark an item as sold if we were to buy it somewhere else, even though they were out of stock, which is just poor sportsmanship — it’s one thing to be handed a de facto monopoly by the bride and groom, but quite another to try to enforce that by not updating the list with purchases from other stores — even other stores owned by the same company! There were serious communication problems across their different store personas: Home Outfitters wasn’t sharing list information with The Bay, etc. Plus they were pretty keen on just having the item shipped to the bride’s house, without giving us a chance to wrap it or anything. It was their excuse for not letting us strike an item that we bought somewhere else: “Well, you can just order it directly from the registry and we’ll ship it to them in 6-8 weeks.”

So we wanted to open it up and make it easier for people to buy anywhere, and also to buy equivalent options, to give them that sort of option where it’s not really important to get something exact. To that end, I found an open source PHP script that does the job very decently: we create our wishlist (including comments and links out to potential retailers) and let the guests mark things off that they have already bought or want to reserve to buy. Unfortunately, being hosted on our wedding website and not anywhere in store, it failed the “aunt test” — it wasn’t quite immediately intuitive enough for one of our aunts to just fire up the web browser and click something off. So, having become disenchanted with HBC, we went to Cayne’s.

Cayne’s offers kitchen and housewares, though not a whole lot else. However, they have very good customer service and return policies, as well as some of the best (non-sale) prices around, which is good because we don’t want our guests overspending on us. We went in and set up a registry by writing down the UPC codes for anything we wanted. Then we found out that the registry is on paper. That’s so 20th-century. Guests can, in theory, call in at any time to check what’s on the registry and even order over the phone, but as a practical matter we had to wonder if a sales associate would actually read out a list of 30-some items over the phone, especially if they were getting hammered with in-person customers on a saturday. Also, in the rare case where two guests show up to shop on the same day, a duplication would be possible since the registry (on paper, remember) wouldn’t be updated until the end of the day. Plus, there’s only the one Cayne’s location. True, it’s in Thornhill, highly accessible to 75+% of our invitees, but nowhere near the presence of HBC. All the factors came together and Wayfare decided that the Cayne’s registry would have to go. I wasn’t quite as pessimistic: after all, the only major problem with it was that the gift list wasn’t accessible online, and we had our own database for anyone who did want to check things online. The stodgy aunts could go in person to Caynes, and everyone else could use our PHP gift registry to buy gifts from any category in any store.

So of course, next thing I knew, we had an appointment at the Bay downtown to set up our registry. It was impressive, with several sales staff/consultants who just deal with registries. We got a scanning tool to run amok in the store scanning to our heart’s content. That store is this huge retail mecca, with something like 8 large floors of goods. We went from china to luggage to kitchen stuff to bath towels, with several more floors for seasonal stuff and clothes. Unfortunately, the Bay and Home Outfitters/Zellers still aren’t on speaking terms as far as registries are concerned. And oddly enough, it was a really tiring, disappointing shopping spree. First off in luggage, the piece Wayfare really wanted was being discontinued, and we can’t register for discontinued items. Over in the kitchen area, it was a big mess organizationally speaking. They had it organized for the most part by brand, rather than type of kitchen goodness, which made finding and moreover comparing quite a chore. Plus, we had already gone through the kitchen stuff once at Cayne’s and so had a pretty good idea of what we wanted… and the Bay just didn’t have it. They had hardly any pots that were sold as pots. Instead, almost all of their pots were solely offered as parts of giant sets. For glasses, they had the brand and style we wanted, but only the very largest size. They were these huge misproportioned goblets that we felt like we needed two hands to hold. They had the kitchen scale and food processor we were looking for… but both were about $60 at Cayne’s vs. $100 at HBC. Yes, they do quite often have sales to bring that price down, but it made us feel bad for putting those on the registry. Since there are usually multiple rounds of gift-giving leading up to a wedding (the shower, the engagement party, the tea party, the lingerie party, the stag and doe, the beach blast, the kegger, the rehearsal, and the wedding itself), I suggested we keep a number of items on the registry at Cayne’s for the shower, just for those people who absolutely can’t be talked into giving cash (and unfortunately Wayfare is herself one of those people) and then the registry at the Bay for the wedding itself. She wasn’t fond of that idea, because, well… I think by that point she had just gotten accustomed to not being fond of my ideas (and I think in her secret heart, she’s hoping that she’ll have a bigger shower than the 15-some items left on the Cayne’s registry would provide for).

Overall, we found the gift registry process to be pretty draining. That is of course because we live in modern times, and we’re not just leaving our parents to set up our own household. I’ve been off on my own for almost 6 years now, and Wayfare for even longer. We already have everything we need. A lot of our stuff we got new after we moved out, and even a lot of the stuff we left with second-hand (our microwave and toaster oven, for example) we’ve used up and have since replaced with new stuff. Heck, just from birthdays and potatomasses we’ve burned through almost all our gift ideas — we’ve even got a vacuum sealer, a bread maker, and the Griddler, which has been used twice in 6 months. There are precious few kitchen gadgets left that we don’t have — and that’s only because we probably wouldn’t use what’s left. I mean Wayfare hasn’t even taken the slow cooker she got for Potatomas out of the box yet. We have a coffeemaker we haven’t used once. We forgot we had it when we were in the store and wondering if we should register for one (neither of us drinks coffee, but one day we might have a guest who might — even after remembering our unused 2-cup maker, Wayfare was wondering if we should register for a larger one because our hypothetical guests might not want to wait for the coffee to burble out a single large mug at a time). Our kitchen (and by extension, house as a whole) is complete, perhaps even moreso than our <sappy> love for each other </sappy>.

And a quick interjection — Toronto friends, we miss you. Please come stay with us. We truly mean it when we say we’d love for you to come down and stay with us. We have too much guest stuff (guest towels, guest sheets, guest coffee maker, guest room) to have our guests be so very hypothetical.

This seems to be a generational trend: gift registries are fast losing their relevance as people already have their households established before they get married, often with two sets of stuff. People are marrying later in life — I’m not married yet, and I’m old, grey hair and everything.

A kitchen full of new stuff is nice, even if your stuff is only 6 years old as it is. And there is the romantic sentimentalism of being able to say that that toaster was given to us by uncle Bob, or the set of linens from the next-door neighbours. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to find that many things to register for in the first place, but because uncle Bob doesn’t want to be stuck as the schmo buying us whatever it is he thinks is uncool and left at the end of the registry (face cloths, meat thermometer, whatever), we have to register for more presents than we think people will ever buy us, just so they have choice. Personally, I find this a very difficult thing to do.

3 Responses to “Wedding Rant: Gift Registries”

  1. Netbug Says:

    Register at the Sony Store.
    Send me what you get.

    Problem solved.

  2. Ben Says:

    Firstly, I’m sorry I’m missing the lingerie party.

    It’s too bad your personal list failed the aunt test, that would have been the ideal solution. It could be updated in real time and you could ask for items from any store!

  3. Wayfare Says:

    Truly and honestly we are just thrilled to be able to party with people who we don’t get a chance to see very often. The best present *ever* would be to see you on the dance floor, enjoying our super yummy chocolate cake and getting a kick out of our goofy personalized touches. Please come and have a blast, we already have a house established and would love the awesome company. If you’re *really* looking for a gift for us, the gift of visiting us sometime and partaking of our housewares is a wonderful one! Alternatively, lovely wishes for us that I can put in our scrapbook would be awesome.

    In the end, despite being blessed with plenty of stuff, we bit the bullet and decided to register the old fashioned way for those relatives and friends who may want to give us something small in some pretty wrapping paper. (I’m one of those people who loves to wrap stuff, so if I miss out on the chance when gift giving opportunities come around, I end up bummed – hence my horror at The Bay offering to just ship things to people.)

    Caynes failed the Aunt test miserably – even worse than the online registry. Before we went to register I was under the impression that it was a fairly well known store, but I haven’t found anyone who has heard of it who didn’t grow up immediately alongside Potato (Potato has done some pretty decent advertising for Caynes over the years). Also, after looking at our guest list it became apparent that over 80% of those invited would have to travel more than an hour just to get to the only store location to then possibly find out that there was nothing left on the list. At this point it became a cruel punishment we were inflicting on those kind enough to want to give us a gift.