Fall 2007
Gift Registry 101 By Sharon Naylor

Beyond Brides and Babies

The market for gift registries is not just about brides and babies. Here are some new categories for registries:

  • Milestone anniversaries
  • Milestone birthdays
  • Students starting college
  • Grandparents
  • Teens and tweens
  • Civil unions
  • Divorces (They just lost half their stuff in the divorce, so friends give them a re-stocking party!)
  • New homeowners
  • Collectible enthusiasts
  • Also consider suggesting registries for Christmas and Hanukkah, Mother's Day, Father's Day and Valentine's Day.

    A gift-registry program can bring you a whole new set of customers. While weddings and baby registries have been going strong for a while, consumers are setting up registries for a wider variety of occasions: sweet 16, bat mitzvah, graduation and more. While you may worry that big-box stores have the registry market covered, remember that your store occupies a special niche, as one that stocks unique products. Your registry is especially important when customers are looking for that unique gift to give their loved ones on special occasions.

    Interested, but concerned about startup expenses? Don’t be. We’re in an era where registry software and installation is moderately priced, in the hundreds of dollars rather than the thousands, and if you prefer using handwritten cards you only have to factor in the cost of time and maintenance.

    Decide: Paper or computer?

    First, you want to decide if your registry will be managed on paper or through your computer. If you are reasonably good with computers and your store’s POS system, you might want to manage the registry through your store computer. In this case, you’ll need some guidance on the installation and maintenance of the registry software. Even better, if you have a functioning website, consider taking the registry online. With an online gift registry, customers from all across the country (and even the world) can shop the list 24/7.

    It is possible to run a successful registry with the old-fashioned paper method, if that would be easiest for you. It matters most that you understand, master and troubleshoot your system, so customers aren’t faced with missing files or outdated listings. If you’re not tech-savvy and you’re too busy to take classes or hire a computer expert, you’d do best to start with a paper registry.

    Complete setup

    If you are going the paper route, use your computer’s word-processing program to design signup papers or cards with fun fonts, colors and graphics. Remember, the registry form should include the registrant’s full contact information (reminding the registrant about your store’s privacy policy is a good idea), date of event, and a blank chart for filling in requested gifts, according to the particular details (such as color, design) of your merchandise.

    Print the designed cards on attractive paper or card stock. Or you can order your custom-designed registry cards from a professional printer. Use colored hanging folders to divide cards by month of event, and you’re all set to activate and maintain your printed registry.

    Setting up and maintaining a paper registry is relatively easy. You don’t have to worry about computers going down and other technical issues. However, paper registries require meticulous recording by hand when someone buys a gift. When multiple shoppers need to access the same registry, there’s only one registry card for them all to work from. Photocopies are not advisable, since confusion can ensue with the recording of purchased gifts.

    The paper system has worked well for Janet Prudeaux, owner of International Pottery, in Morristown, NJ. “Since we have multiple artisans in pottery, blown glass and jewelry, they can offer their wares in many different colors, which we keep track of on the registry by hand,” she says, adding that she is not moving to a computerized system anytime soon.

    Computerized registries can involve either setting up and maintaining a registry in-store, or taking it a step further and bringing the registry to your store’s website. Companies such as Marcole Interactive Systems, based in Walnut Creek, CA, offer specialized gift registry software made especially for independent retailers. Check with your POS provider to see if it can help you figure out the kind of software you’ll need to create a computerized registry. Note that not all POS systems can integrate registry programs efficiently, so ask questions before buying new software. Another option is to bring in your own computer whiz. Kate Heston, co-owner of The Banyan Tree, in Upper Montclair, NJ, did just that. Heston’s technical team established the store’s registry in conjunction with its website, and connected it to the POS system. The technical team constantly upgrades the program and makes improvements after feedback from Heston. The Banyan Tree’s example shows that it’s important to be proactive with your registry creation and maintenance. Don’t just turn the project over to a technical team, with no follow-up. You need an expert on your side.

    A clean website can increase sales. Lists are automatically updated when purchases are made. Registrants can also personalize their gift-registry pages. The drawbacks are the maintenance work of inputting new stock; slow or unreliable servers; systems needing frequent backup to a separate hard drive or zip file; and the need to print hard copies for each shopper, which can add up in paper and ink costs.


    Just as important as an organized, functional registry system is a staff that knows the products and can recommend add-ons. Genius Jones, a trendy babies-to-kids boutique based in Miami, is in transition from a paper registry system to a computerized registry in order to reach a national consumer base. The company has turned customer service into a revenue-booster. General manager Michael Balbone says the store’s staff advises customers on what’s really needed in a baby registry.

    Everyone on your staff should have access to the registry program. If you have a software-based system, they should be trained in every facet of it, including the way to create printouts, and entering and changing registry listings. Customers get frustrated when they discuss products with a salesperson on the floor, only to be told that the manager who keys in the entries is not available. So plan several training sessions for employees, at which you’ll offer order-in pizza or sandwiches. Tutorials should be complemented by printed handouts explaining every key and code used with your program, so that each employee gains a mastery of the system.

    Periodically, ask your staff members what they like and don’t like about the registry program, and ask for any feedback they’ve received from customers. This hands-on experience will pinpoint the issues you need to bring up with your technical team or your software sales representative, so that changes can be made for optimal efficiency. Refresher courses are essential. Heston, of The Banyan Tree, says her store’s technical team instructs her employees on software updates and upgraded features for the registry, such as new links and shortcut commands.

    Pile on the goodies

    Offer registrants a discount on any gifts remaining on the list after the event. Offer free gift-wrapping and even free delivery, if the recipient is within a reasonable distance from your store. Some shop owners voluntarily pick up the cost of shipping.

    Offer call-in or e-mail gift selection assistance, through which a customer can learn the size and material of a product, or about additional options such as engraving. When customers are ready to set up registries, consider providing them a list of the top five gift ideas in a specific category: teens, expectant parents, brides, anniversary couples and so on. Remember to train your employees to use this list, as well. You can post laminated copies of such lists in your store, or post the lists on your registry website.

    Heston says visual enhancements are a key component to her registry’s success. “We’ve increased sales since establishing the website with lots of graphics, and we added the ability for wedding couples to upload their engagement photos, to make it more personal,” she says.

    Spread the word

    Be sure to mention your registry in every piece of literature you distribute: “It goes in every ad we do, on every piece of direct mail, in every article in which we’re mentioned, on all of our correspondence,” Heston says.

    Utilize in-store signage to inform customers that you have a gift registry. Plan special registry events, such as Expectant Moms Night, where moms-to-be can register for gifts and get a foot massage from a local spa. Add in light snacks and nonalcoholic drinks, and your event is sure to be a hit. Another smart marketing strategy is to offer a contest in which the first 50 new gift-registry customers are entered into a raffle for a $100 gift card. Announce your contest in a press release distributed to local media. Build relationships with local charities—plan to donate 10 percent of each registry purchase to their cause. These associations, in turn, will help spread the word about your store and your registries.

    Plan the add-ons

    For each registry purchase, increase sales with gift wrap and related accessories: cards, ribbons and bows. Subtly encourage customers to create gift baskets by adding on small, complementary pieces to the main purchase. Margarita mixes, for example, go well with a margarita pitcher and glasses. Set out impulse purchases, such as gift books and card decks. Your employees can use their expertise, or brainstorm as a group about which add-ons they can recommend. With the right suggestions, you can increase each sale by as much as 40 percent.

    With a few creative ideas and efficient planning, a gift registry can be a vital part of your shop’s growth.

    Sharon Naylor

    Naylor is the author of 30 wedding books, including Your Special Wedding Vows and Your Special Wedding Toasts.SharonNaylor.net

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