The Perfect Gifts

Why personalized bundles, nostalgia-themed items and sustainable attributes are the leading gifting trends for 2018.

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Mud Pie birthday accessories

Birthdays, holidays, baby showers and other personal celebrations occur every day of every year, and it’s a retailer’s job to always be ready with the perfect gift. But with trends evolving faster than ever, it’s a mistake to assume the most popular gifts from last year will generate the same sell-through this year. Heck, the shift in popular gift items is moving month to month.

“The customer today wants to be wowed at retail,” says Steve Starobinsky, vice president of marketing and product discovery at Diverse Marketing. “They crave discovery, and luckily, the customer doesn’t go to Amazon for newness anymore.”

Rachel Glasson, owner of Twinkle Twinkle Little One in Chicago, agrees that although Amazon might be tough competition for necessities due to convenience and pricing, a customer shopping for a gift wants that special experience to avoid being stuck with the same item as 20 other shower guests. “My customers come to my store seeking something unique and different,” Glasson says. “They want to present a gift that is not bought off a shelf at a chain store, something selected with love and packaged showing that they cared to go the extra mile.”

Sari Sloane, founder of Everafter with locations in New York and Greenvale, NY, says all three of her locations are curated to be a one-stop shop for customers, carrying everything from sequin pouches and pillows to Unicorn Snot and Squishems. “We have a designated area for ‘cool stuff’ in each store where we put all of our fun gifting items, so it makes it easy and fun to put together different pieces,” she says.

Elegant Baby introduces customizable gift boxes to retailers

This mix-and-match merchandising so shoppers can create unique “personalized bundles” has been dubbed the gifting go-to. “Sometimes the price point can seem daunting with preset gift items,” says Brittany Harrell, founder of Summer Place showroom in AmericasMart Atlanta. “By mixing and matching various size gifts to fit whatever budget the customer may have, stores have realized this generates more sales in the long run.” Harrell says that retailers often visit the showroom looking for items that “tell a story” together. Although the customer who just wants to pop in for a baby blanket can do so, she says retailers should be equipped to upsell with coordinating burp cloths and bath towels. Coordinating small items can make a gift feel more complete than a purchase of one large (often more expensive) item.

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“I always ask my customer their price point, the age of the child and the gender, and in the case of a new baby, if it’s the parents’ first child,” Glasson says. “This helps me or my associates guide them in the right direction and not waste their time showing things that are outside the price range.” The boutique owner says gifting to go personalized bundles often bumps up the overall spend per customer. “Typically, a customer who is looking for a $30 gift tends to move toward the $50 gift and the $50 gift tends to move the need toward a $75 or $100 gift,” she says.

Yates Hooper, president and CEO of Elegant Baby, agrees that personalized bundles are coming on strong for 2018, which led his brand to start experimenting with new packaging. For Spring ’18, it will offer special gift boxes for retailers to create their own customized Elegant Baby bundles to fit their customers’ specific needs. “From the product to the packaging, everything has to resonate,” Hooper says, “You need to be able to tap that emotional reaction.”

Glasson admits to spending “a ridiculous amount of time” researching the perfect packaging when she launched her boutique. “My customers love that they walk out gift-giving ready,” she says. When it comes to wrapping a purchase, Glasson uses quality branded bags fit to be an actual gift bag, paired with unique gender neutral tissue with the option of gender-specific colored paper. And of course, the perfect gift isn’t complete without a ribbon to tie it all together. “We offer free gift enclosure cards but find that 25 to 30 percent of our customers prefer to purchase a nice greeting card for their gift,” Glasson says, adding that she put a card display at both registers which have generated a lot of sales. Lastly, before ringing up the final item, Glasson recommends making a last-minute pairing suggestion to add to the gift. “Even adding a cute book to a gift can add up to a lot of extra dollars spent,” she says.

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Retailers have to think of the store layout as profitability per square foot,” Starobinsky says. “Can this item drive more dollars at the end of the day in that same space?” For example, the most important gift topper item of 2017 were Pop Sockets, according to Starobinsky. It was the perfect item to stock by the register. “Every single retailer knows what those are and if not, they must not like money,” he says. Priced under $10, the colorful little knobs make smartphones easier to hold and watch videos on with the kickstand-like design. “Mobile seems to be an area looking for customization,” Starobinsky adds. “Tweens and teens aren’t satisfied with just a phone in a case anymore.” So what’s next? Starobinsky says Pop Sockets will continue as a good impulse buy, however the GloLens will be the new big item in 2018. The item makes taking selfies easier with the illuminating lens that captures photos at a wide angle. Retailing under $25, the GloLens comes in metallic colors, including the hot hue of the moment: rose gold, which matches with many smartphones. “The modern consumer isn’t interested in throwing money out,” Starobinsky says. “Especially with gifting, the product should provide a service or at least some sort of feeling—It has to evoke that connection.”

Along those lines, experts say nostalgic gifts are one of the best way to create an emotional response. Retro gaming-inspired items, for example, are a great choice for appeasing Millennial parents. For the generation that grew up playing video games, old games is a way to connect with their kids. “Interestingly, kids don’t find retro graphics ugly or too simple,” Starobinsky says. “They’re actually attracted to them after being so overstimulated with today’s hyperreal modern content. Playing retro games with their parents is kind of cool.” With that, Starobinsky predicts this year’s release of Ready Player One, directed by Steven Spielberg, will be a crowd-pleaser based on its virtual reality world setting full of ’80s and ’90s nostalgia. “Not that retailers need to buy the movie, but that movie becomes an hour-and-a-half-long commercial of products for this generation,” he says. The Nintendo license has certainly enjoyed this boost of nostalgia, working with many children’s brands of late, including Bumkins popular line of Nintendo baby products including Game Boy teethers and controller-printed bibs—what Starobinsky describes as a “spot-on product.”

Bumkins x Nintendo teether

Speaking of licensing, experts predict some turnover pretty soon in the preschool department. Paw Patrol, the current No. 1 license, seems to have leveled off in oversaturated mass market fashion. PJ Masks was another major license with a lot of hype out of the gate, but the sell-through is starting to wane. A potential up-and-comer, Starobinsky predicts, is Rusty Rivets, a new cartoon series on Nickelodeon that features two friends, a boy and a girl, who love solving problems through DIY robotic creations. “Parents will love the educational value,” he says. “The show creates great exposure for STEM and DIY to the masses.” Toys from the show debuted at Toys “R” Us last fall with more products becoming available to a wider retail audience later this year.

GloLens wide angle illuminating lens

Randi Mohr, group show director for NY Now, the gift trade show at the Javits Center in New York next month, reports the show is noticing a gifting trend of products that resonates with consumers on a deeper level. “This February, attendees will see a focus on products that are not only functional but also eco-friendly and socially responsible,” she says, citing new exhibitor Elly Lu Organics’ line of whimsical toys that are made exclusively with organic and eco-friendly materials. Hevea USA will be another company at the show offering pacifiers and toys that are non-toxic and sustainable. Mohr also reports seeing an uptick in exhibitors showcasing meaningful and celebratory gift items. For example, Sweet Wink is a mother-daughter duo based in New York that manufactures clothing and accessories to celebrate life’s special moments.  The Birthday Doll Company is another exhibitor that fosters an emotional connection to its products by creating timeless keepsakes that celebrate a child’s birthday year after year.

Ellen Fruchtman, spokesperson for Mud Pie, agrees that being current on gifting trends is key, but making sure whatever item is stocked is photo-worthy is equally important. “Today’s moms live out loud on social media and every moment is a photo opportunity,” she says, noting that picture frames, nursery décor, specialty dolls and plush are all making a comeback in the gifting market. Hooper wholeheartedly agrees: “If Mom can put it on Instagram, then you’re good to go.”

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