How To Buy The Perfect Gift, According To A Pro-Present Buyer

Natasha Hinde
·Reporter at HuffPost UK
·6-min read

You can lose yourself scrolling through any retail website’s gifts section – and often come out none the wiser as to what to buy.

And that’s where we’re all going wrong when present-buying, according to Joanne Al-Samarae, who runs gift concierge and consultancy service Magpie and Co. “We go to Selfridges and ask what is in their gift shop, and we start to fit the gift to the person – and it’s the wrong way around,” she says.

“We’ve become reliant on stores telling us what we should be giving, rather than using the giftee as the inspiration.”

Perhaps then, 2020 is the time to accept that we need a present giving overhaul – favouring fewer, more thoughtful gifts, rather than just panic-buying 10 random things that get shoved in a drawer.

It’s an affliction many of us have. A survey by TK Maxx last year found 75% of people gift on autopilot, habitually picking the same presents every year.

“This year especially, gifting is going to take on a more important role than it ever has,” says Al-Samarae. “It’s been a turbulent and stressful year, we’ve missed all those joyous occasions like births, weddings, anniversaries and celebrations. This year gifting is about showing you care and that you appreciate them.”

Where to begin buying a gift

The prospect of Christmas shopping can be pretty overwhelming – especially when you’ve got more than one person to buy for.

It might be helpful to write down a list of the people you’re going to be sending gifts to, and how much you want to spend on them.

Al-Samarae is a big believer in setting a budget before you’ve even thought about what you’d buy them – “this year it’s going to be really important for people to keep a hold of their finances, so setting budgets at the beginning, before you even start looking at gifts, is really important,” she says.

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(Photo: Xsandra via Getty Images)
(Photo: Xsandra via Getty Images)

Think about the personal stuff

Next, put some serious thought into what that person likes – and write it down. What are their hobbies, skills and interests? Did they pick up a new hobby in lockdown that could spark some gift inspiration?

She offers the example that a friend took up baking in lockdown, specifically flatbreads, so she plans on buying them a really good quality olive oil.

“A lot of people worry that what they’re giving isn’t of value, but the success of a gift isn’t to do with its cost,” says Al-Samarae, “it’s really the thought that shows you have been listening and you really do know that person.

“Things don’t have to be expensive, they just need to be a bit thoughtful.”

Have a good think about what the person wants and needs – practical gifts are really having a moment. “People drop a lot of hints,” says Al-Samarae, “but often we don’t pick up on them.”

This year gifting is about showing you care and that you appreciate them.

How Covid is shaping our gift choices

If you don’t know much about their interests, or can’t really think what you’d buy them that’s hobby-related, think about the situation we find ourselves in this year – and the gifts that might resonate as a result.

A personalised passport cover, for instance, might not be well-received seeing as travel is off limits for most of us. Even makeup or bling accessories may struggle to get an outing for a while. Something for the home might be more of a hit – because many of us are spending so much time there.

“This year I think we’ll see a shift in a few different areas,” says Al-Samarae. “Gifts for the house and home are going to be top of the list, more so than clothes or perfume or even jewellery. Our homes are our sanctuaries and we’re starting to spend time caring for them and improving them.”

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She believes wellbeing and self-care gifts will also be top of people’s priority lists. “Start thinking about the small things people are doing to stay well,” she says. This could be yoga, meditation, cooking, painting, gardening – there are so many gifts that are appropriate for each of these areas.

More recently, Al-Samarae has seen a take up of more holistic gifts – with increased interest from clients in things like crystals, tarot cards and incense.

People care more about buying locally and also purchasing things that are of quality, rather than something that will break quickly – it’s a trend she’s seen growing over the past five years. This is especially relevant with more people on tighter budgets. Buy one great quality gift rather than three mediocre ones, she advises.

For the person who has everything

There’s always that one person who appears to have everything they could possibly need. So you end up buying them novelty items, like a hat that holds beer cans or a self-stirring mug, that don’t actually mean anything.

Al-Samarae says it’s actually very rare that a person does really have everything, however if you’re really struggling, she recommends buying something that you love – rather than the recipient.

“What I’ve learned is relationships are about sharing, and when you gift them something you love that they don’t already know about, you’re inviting them in,” she explains. Team it with a handwritten card explaining why you gave the gift and it makes the present a lot more valuable, she adds.

Can you make it instead?

If money is tight or you’re looking to show off your newly-found lockdown skills, homemade gifts can be just as – if not more – impactful.

“If you can make something, it’s so much more personal,” says the gift expert, whose father loves woodwork and will often make her little wooden trinkets like trays or jewellery boxes.

If you’ve got into baking in a big way, then perhaps you could bake some lovely gifts and make up your own hamper? If you’re an artist or a photographer, gift a piece of your work.

You can make homemade jams and chutneys, and package them up nicely, or write a poem and frame it. If you sew or knit, perhaps you could craft them a lovely throw for their sofa, so they can embrace the cosiness of winter.

“You can really get creative,” she adds. “Homemade items will always win hearts.”

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.