You can’t tell by looking at my wrapping, but I was once a Professional Gift Wrapper. Sort of. When I was a teenager, I worked at a hardware store in my hometown. We carried a variety of housewares, toys and other items that were often purchased for gift giving. We also had a fabulous selection of wrapping paper and bows, but only a few people on staff who could really do them justice. I wasn’t one of them.
I wrapped many gifts, and all of them had bulges on the sides of the package where the paper comes together. Even today, I often turn a gift on its side and put a big bow on the lump to cover it up.
But I can finally feel good about my wrapping, and not because it’s gotten better. I just read about research that suggests attractive gift wrapping can actually backfire by leading the receiver to anticipate an equally attractive gift. That means, when they open your beautifully-wrapped package and find an egg slicer or a hair removal device, they’re bound to be disappointed. They might be disappointed anyway.
But researchers at the Yale Center for Customer Insights say fancy wrapping can even dim the enthusiasm of someone receiving a nice gift. Meanwhile, mediocre wrapping can actually enhance the joy of receiving any gift because the wrapping hasn’t built up expectations, though I don’t think anything could enhance the joy of receiving a hair remover or an egg slicer.
It makes sense really. Imagine that a month before Christmas, you receive a gift that’s been professionally-wrapped in gold metallic wrapping paper with a red satin ribbon and a giant bow. You see it under your tree every day, and you can’t help imagining all the wonderful things that could be in that package. Crystal? A new camera? Cruise tickets and a big rock to add weight to the package? You can’t wait for Christmas!
Finally, it’s time! You tear into the package prepared to be wowed, and you find…a hot dog cooker or a snow cone maker. Naturally, you’re disappointed. Who wants snow cones in December?
If this study had been done back when I was a professional gift wrapper, it would have saved me a lot of embarrassment. I could have handed my customers their lumpy packages and said, “If your wife is disappointed that you bought mixing bowls for her birthday, don’t blame me.”
According to the researchers, there’s one exception to the gift wrap rule, and that’s when the value of your gift isn’t obvious. For example, let’s say you’re giving your teenager the $75,000 diamond-encrusted Vertu cellphone. If she thinks the diamonds are cubic zirconia, she might carelessly misplace her phone under her bed or accidentally throw it in with the dirty laundry. In order to signal that the gift has great value, you should definitely have it professionally wrapped. You should also have your head examined.
For gifts valued less than $75,000, consider more humble wrapping:
• Wrap your gift in newspaper, being careful to avoid the obituary page.
• Wrap it in brown paper and tie it up with string while humming a verse of “My Favorite Things.”
• Make the wrapping part of the gift. For example, use a tea towel to wrap a package of kitchen sponges.
• Go wrapless—the gift not you.
My personal favorite though, is the gift bag. Gift bags are attractive, but not so much that they raise my expectations. They don’t require any special wrapping skill when I go to reuse them later. And they make it easy for me to peek.
(Dorothy Rosby is the author of the humor book, I Didn’t Know You Could Make Birthday Cake from Scratch: Parenting Blunders from Cradle to Empty Nest. Contact [email protected])
Confessions of a professional gift wrapper