Avoid the letdown of an unwanted gift

June 08, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

My brother-in-law, an avid hunter, put ammunition on his Christmas wish list. A no-brainer, I thought. No problem.

"I need some bullets for a hunting gun," I asked the clerk at a large local retail establishment.

And he laughed.

Shopping for members of the opposite sex - whether it's for Father's Day next Sunday, birthdays, anniversaries or "just because" - can be tough. Some Tri-State area retailers recently offered tips to make shopping trips that might cross gender boundaries a bit less taxing.

Rule No. 1: Save receipt

"Most men are clueless when it comes to picking out jewelry," said Debbie MacDonald, sales associate at King's Jewelry Outlet in Hagerstown. "I don't think most men are aware of what kind of jewelry their women wear every day."


Does she prefer white gold, yellow gold, silver or any of the above? What's her ring size? Her favorite precious or semi-precious gemstone? Those are questions many of MacDonald's male customers can't answer, she said.

She often suggests diamonds, "which are good for any occasion." And necklaces are safe picks for unsure jewelry buyers because size doesn't matter as much as it does with items such as rings, MacDonald said.

Rule No. 2: Pay attention to preferences

It's easier to choose the perfect lipstick, nail polish and eye shadow for your favorite female if you take note of the colors she wears most often, said Joyce Burrall, Este Lauder sales associate at The Bon-Ton in Hagerstown.

Easy-to-give information such as the gift recipient's hair color will help cosmetics salespeople direct buyers to shades that compliment the make-up wearer's skin tone - a key detail many men can't provide, Burrall said. Neutral shades are always a safe bet, she said.

Change can be good - or not. The conservative businessman in your life might shelf a suit that says, "Saturday Night Fever." That's why men's apparel salesman Jake Keister suggests choosing clothes that suit the wearer's style.

"It helps to know if he's flashy or conservative, and what his favorite colors are," said Keister, sales manager at S&K Menswear in Hagers-town.

Rule No. 3: Know details

One size doesn't fit all. For dressier men's clothing, it's important to note neck size, sleeve length and waist size, Keister said. Women's sizes basically run in even numbers starting with two - but sizes often fluctuate from designer to designer. So Allison Wood, assistant manager at Casual Corner Outlet in Hagerstown, suggests sticking to more size-friendly fashions.

Sweater sets, good, Wood said. Slacks and skirts, not so good.

"Bottoms are difficult to buy for someone else because you really need to try them on," she said.

The vast majority of gift shoppers at Hagerstown's Circuit City - most of whom are women - come armed with specifics, Store Manager Ben Henning said.

"They know what they're looking for right down to the model number," he said. "The guys have made their decision and told (the women) what they want."

Shopping for tools can be especially difficult without specific information, said John Hawbaker, veteran salesman at Sears in Hagerstown.

"You really do need some guidelines on what kind of tool to get based upon what it will be used for," he said. "We hear a lot of, 'My husband wants that thing he saw on TV.' Very seldom do (female gift shoppers) come in and say, 'I want a 13-amp circular saw.' But with a few questions, we can usually find out what they want."

The same rules apply to men choosing tools for women - a phenomenon that's occurring with increasing frequency, Hawbaker said.

Shopping for sporting equipment and electronics is much like shopping for hardware - it's important to know how the gear will be used.

"There's a difference between the equipment you need for fly-fishing and spin-fishing, for freshwater fishing and saltwater fishing," said Murray Friedman, owner of Orvis-Hunting Creek Outfitters in Frederick, Md. "It's important to know what they're fishing for and where the equipment will be used."

Like fishing, hunting is a specialized sport - and one for which many participants like to choose their own equipment, said Dick Pharr, owner of Sparks Sport Center in Martinsburg, W.Va.

"We deal with the ladies a lot, and a lot of times they only know general information," he said. "You need different clothes and equipment for different (hunting) seasons."

Rule No. 4: When in doubt, give a gift certificate

For unsure gift buyers, Friedman suggests questioning the angler's or hunter's sporting friends about needed equipment. Gift registries such as the one at Friedman's store also make gift-giving easier, and gift certificates often make up for in recipient satisfaction what they lack in giver creativity.

"We do an awful lot with gift certificates," Pharr said.

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