If you think it’s tough coming up with holiday gifts for your friends and family, consider the job of the retail buyer. These folks are responsible for figuring out all the great potential presents that will eventually be waiting on store shelves for the rest us to deliberate over — and they’re doing it months before the holiday season is even a twinkle in our eyes. Case in point: Back in July, buyers from the Land of Nod, Lou & Grey, Clementine, Walker Art Center, and Nordstrom were already convening at Etsy HQ for our first-ever Etsy Wholesale Open Call program, poring over Etsy sellers’ wares and hand-picking the items that would be featured in their own holiday retail lineups (which you can still shop, in person, at their stores across the US).
More so than most people, these folks know that choosing a gift is an art form, and to help you tick off the final names on your last-minute shopping list, they’ve shared their hard-won expert shopping tips with us here.
How to be a better gift-giver, in 12 easy steps:
Make it personal (part 1): “For me, the best gifts reflect a personal understanding of the individual and show the recipient that you really thought of them,” says Michelle Kohanzo, Managing Director of Land of Nod. If you could give the same gift to several people on your list (or picture the item being regifted to another person come next December), it might be time to go back to the drawing board.
Make it personal (part 2): Francoise Olivas, Director of New Creative Concepts for Lou & Grey, adds that truly personal gifts reflect both the recipient and the giver: “[A great gift shows] thoughtfulness, and is something that only you could give that person, something that says, ‘I get you.'” Try for a gift that calls to mind a common passion (or obsession!), an inside joke, or a shared experience.
Consider the source. “Great gifts also come from the heart — and the items we selected from Etsy Wholesale Open Call reflect the passion of the people who made them,” says Willa Wilson, Buyer at Walker Art Center. An object that was clearly made with love gives you a leg up from the get-go.
Mine your memory. “I think the key to great gift-giving is to take a moment to relax and think back on the things that have made your friend or family member smile,” says Emily Blistein, founder and buyer for the Vermont boutique Clementine. “There’s nothing worse than hurried or stressed gift shopping, and it really does only take a minute to calm yourself and trust that you can find something.”
Or look for clues. “I stalk my friends’ and family’s social media accounts for gift ideas,” Kohanzo says. “Pinterest is a virtual wishlist — it’s amazing. And I’m always listening for gift hints throughout the year — especially from my husband, who is impossible to buy for. When he says he wants something, I always pay attention.”
Trust your gut. “A great gift should be something you secretly desire yourself — if you love the item, your friend or loved one surely will too,” Wilson says. (Bonus: You might even get to borrow that incredible statement necklace for a special occasion one day.)
Be prepared with a fun fact. One easy way to set your gifts apart? Do a little homework, Wilson says: “Know the story behind what you’re giving — How was it made? Who made it? Where did the materials come from? It’s fun to be able to share that story with the recipient.”
Consider items that elevate the everyday. Wrapping up something that hits right at the intersection of form and function ups the chances that it’ll find a place in the recipient’s daily life. Think: an artist-designed calendar, stylish organizers, or carefully crafted kitchen tools. “Fernweh’s hand-carved exotic-wood vases (shown above) are an exquisite twist on a common item,” says Blistein.
When shopping for a child, keep creativity in mind. “A sense of whimsy and playfulness is essential,” Kohanzo says. “In today’s digital world of video games and instant movie streaming, it’s hard to imagine that toys used to run on nothing other than pure make-believe. While a handheld tablet’s battery will eventually run out of power, kids’ imaginations will keep on going – even past their bedtimes.”
And once you have the gift…
Have fun with the wrapping. “Washi tape should be an essential part of your gift-wrapping station — we love to use different patterns on our packages,” Wilson says.
Or seek out gifts that do double-duty as packaging. “Milkhaus Design’s bags and pouches are gorgeous on their own, and perfect for tucking other gifts inside,” Blistein says. Other foolproof gift-as-wrapping options: tea towels, printed scarves, or furoshiki cloths (to cover any medium-sized object), canvas totes printed with funny slogans (to fill with assorted goodies of all kinds), or even a small figurine with a jewelry box or gift card tied to its back.
And don’t forget the card! “Take ten minutes, sit down, and write a message from the heart,” Olivas says. It’ll make any gift that much more meaningful.
Valerie Rains is an editor at Etsy.