On Your Mark, Get Set, Give!

Do you buy on impulse or plan ahead? Survey reveals six categories of shoppers

Quick - what kind of gift-giver are you?

Maybe you go on impulse and order everything from one catalog five days before the big day.

Or perhaps you spend weeks - even months - planning; from making a mall traffic map to dreaming up gift-wrap ribbon formations.

When Market Facts in Chicago conducted its "Art of Giving" holiday survey, pollsters found that most Americans fall into one of six categories when asked what kind of gift-giver they are.

The national telephone survey of 1,000 people representative of American adults was conducted for Spiegel Catalog.

"I was a little surprised how many people said they were into holiday shopping," says Tom Mularz, vice president of Market Fact's TeleNation division. About 72 percent say they enjoy holiday shopping, with 34 percent saying they truly love it. "It's consistent across gender and geography."

To be fair, respondents were allowed to pick more than one category. (You could consider yourself to be a "risk taker" for your brother, but a "planner" for your mother-in-law, for example.)

We asked Sherri Athay, co-author of "Present Perfect: The Essential Guide to Gift Giving" (Mobius Press) to comment on the mini-profiles.

Where do you fall?

The Risk Taker: 74 percent. You buy gifts that people haven't asked for, but that you think will surprise and delight them.

"Risk takers are among the best gift givers - they are spontaneous," Ms. Athay says. But they should take calculated or informed risks; don't go way out of the ordinary, she believes.

The Planner: 67 percent. You put time and energy into making lists and selecting the most appropriate gifts.

"Sometimes planners need to lighten up a little," says Athay, because too much planning can stifle creativity. Nearly 80 percent of women consider themselves planners, compared to 53 percent of men.

The Just-Give-Them-What-They-Want Shopper: 34 percent. You only purchase items people ask for.

"This is the safest way," Athay notes. If you give someone something you know they want or expect, find a creative way to present or wrap it, she suggests. If it's a trip to Disney World, package the airline tickets in a cute travel bag, for example.

Last-Minute Larry/Louise: 21 percent. You buy whatever you can lay your hands on as the clock winds down.

These folks come out the week before and run to the nearest mall, Athay says. They tend to be less inspired and, of course, in a hurry. Consider doing mail- order shopping or buying as many things as possible at one location, she suggests. Even at a large grocery store you can buy good chocolates, cookie dough and a cookie sheet, a magazine to symbolize a subscription gift, and a snack-pack basket for the couch potato.

The Grabber: 16 percent. You grab the first thing that catches your eye.

Obviously, grabbers don't spend much time and thought, Athay says. Consider the grab-and-release technique. Ask yourself three questions: Does this remind me of the recipient? Will this please the recipient (or is it just any old pre-packaged fragrance?) Is it generous but within my means? If not, put it back on the shelf.

The Same-Gift-Every-Year-Giver: 7 percent. Once you think you know what someone likes, you give them the same thing every year.

These people have gotten into a comfortable place, Athay says, which is fine assuming that the recipient likes it. About 20 percent of senior citizens fall into this category. "Be careful if you plan to change," Athay cautions. Some people get used to the same gift every year from you and look forward to it. If you do plan to change, you may want to drop a little hint ahead of time: "I've decided to do something different this year."

Generally speaking, If you're in need of gift ideas, look through catalogs, surf the Internet, and stroll through stores - common sense, Athay says. Gift certificates still have their supporters and critics. Sometimes the Yellow Pages can spur on great ideas (maid service anyone?)

As for children, Athay suggests a healthy balance. Choose something or things from their list, a few surprises, and at least one thing that's "good for them."

It's good to find something they don't even know exists, says Athay. Her 14-year-old son doesn't know it yet, but one of his Christmas presents this year is going to be a stay at a baseball camp.

And people need to be reminded that sometimes the best sentiments and gifts can't even be wrapped. Charitable contributions to a person's favorite charity or even just a promise coupon - "good for one free adult-school class" - can create long-lasting delight.

For example, Athay writes that "children love the gift of your time. Fill a container with strips of paper on which you've written fun activities or outings. On a regular basis - weekly, monthly - set aside a time to participate in an activity the child selects from the container."

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