Archive for the ‘Gifts’ Category

Service of Disappointment

Thursday, April 21st, 2022

The saying “less is more,” may apply to interior design but I’m finding that more and more we get less for our money.

What Happened to “Neither Rain nor Snow….”

There is a postbox about four blocks from my apartment in a commercial neighborhood with pickups three times a day, the last at 5 p.m. When I went there this week the times had changed: Now its once a day at 11:00 a.m. not only there but in all the boxes I checked nearby. That early in the day might be a good time for postal workers perhaps but not so hot for customers.

Yes then No

A friend was scheduled for surgery which entailed three days in the hospital and a week at a rehab facility. She knew the drill from a previous operation and all was approved. The day before hospital discharge she learned that her insurance wouldn’t cover the cost of rehab. She lives alone. Don’t you love how insurance companies–not doctors–determine how we are treated?

Poor Training

I tried to buy a gift online and the system wouldn’t work so I called the 800 number and placed the order. I opted to pick up the item at the store, a short walk from home because its feather weight and tiny size didn’t warrant the $6.99 shipping fee. The customer service rep said they’d send it home, as it was easier, [not sure for whom], and he’d remove the shipping fee. Long story short, when I was charged the fee I called and customer service told me I had to work it out with my credit card company. This didn’t set well so I contacted headquarters and eventually it was sorted. No more online purchases for me from these folks. Customer care operators should be trained not to turn off customers.

Have you been disappointed by a service lately?

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Service of Conversation Starters

Monday, February 14th, 2022

Not since my broken foot was in a boot ages ago has something attracted as much attention as my Kusama tote bag [photo above and right]. Then, strangers stopped to ask me how I broke it and to share their story. At the time I thought I should lend it to friends who wanted to make new acquaintances.

T

Now, when I carry the bright yellow bag it receives a compliment several times a week. Sometimes people recognize that it came from the New York Botanical Garden gift store because the pattern features the sculptor’s trademark polka dots. Her sculptures enhanced the garden last summer. Other times they simply say “nice bag.” It’s happened on the bus, in stores and at cash registers.

What’s extraordinary is that in NYC women carry tote bags everywhere. I have for years. None of my others have attracted as much attention.

The bag has a history. On a warm winter day I walked from home to Bryant Park and halfway there I realized the tote was no longer on my arm. It is feather light and dropped off the arm of my slippery leather jacket without my noticing. My heart sank. I ran halfway home retracing my steps and couldn’t find it.

I returned to the park and the Christmas shops to distract myself from the sinking feeling I get when I’ve lost something I love. I stopped on the street to try to buy one on my phone from the garden shop website but there were none left. In addition to liking the tote, a good friend who knows I love polka dots, bright colors and that I had enjoyed Kusama’s sculptures gave it to me. Another friend, following the same intel, gave me a pair of Kusama-inspired socks! Am I lucky for having such caring and observant friends–or what?

Not enjoying myself in the park I soon went back home. As I reached Lexington Avenue and 41st Street I saw a bright yellow bag on the sidewalk. It was mine–my Christmas gift to do list was inside. The Pandemic saved it for me: there weren’t many people on the street that day and the few who walked by didn’t want to touch a stranger’s bag.

Does something you wear or carry attract cheery conversation?

Service of Expectations III

Monday, December 27th, 2021

Margaret Brennan on Face the Nation

I wrote the first two in this series in 2012 (though I suspect there are many posts in which dashed expectations are at the core).


Image by Please Don’t sell My Artwork AS IS from Pixabay 

In one I covered highlights of irritants identified in a customer service survey where rudeness, passing the buck, waiting too long for problem resolution and having to follow-up too often topped the list of complaints and disappointments. In the other I described a person who didn’t send a message that he was kept waiting for his doctor’s appointment for three hours. He refused to own a mobile phone and didn’t ask the receptionist to borrow hers. Friends expecting his visit that afternoon were frantic when he didn’t show and didn’t call–which they expected him to do.

In a recent Social Q’s column in The New York Times, Philip Galanes responded to Ally who asked “Why Doesn’t Anyone Put as Much Effort Into Secret Santa as I Do? A reader feels consistently disappointed by her family’s gift exchange.” In part of his response he wrote: “This is like shopping regularly for heirloom tomatoes at the hardware store. You will never find them there! Try to lower your expectations before the unwrapping begins. Consider the other ways your relatives show they care.”

How many viewers of Face the Nation expect to be able to walk in heels as high as the ones Margaret Brennan wears [photo above]? Here she was this Sunday interviewing Vice President Kamala Harris. Do you think she walks far in them? I was on a set before a client’s TV interview where the host slipped off Uggs boots and put on heels just before cameras rolled.

Some friends respond to emails and texts and expect others to as well–but they don’t or it takes them ages to do so. Others generously share their contacts but that favor is never returned. These situations generate feelings of disrespect.

I see signs in windows for “quick turnaround PCR tests” for Covid and understand that there will be laws to punish those who lie as there must be plenty of them. They promise results in a day when the reality is closer to five.

My advice for happiness: Drop expectations. Agree?


Image by Samuel F. Johanns from Pixabay 

Service of Choosing Gifts

Thursday, December 2nd, 2021

‘Tis the season: Will you, too, be scratching your head to find perfect gifts?

Some of Evan Polman’s findings may shed light on final decisions. He reported them in “That Product Will Work Well for You. But for Me? Not So Much,” in The Wall Street Journal. Dr. Polman is associate professor of marketing at the Wisconsin School of Business in Madison.

“In 15 studies involving thousands of participants, we found that people believe that scores of products—including moisturizer, granola bars, calendars and online classes—will have a greater positive effect on others than on themselves.” The less familiar the product, wrote Dr. Polman, the stronger this belief. [He observed that some think medicines work better for others hence they opt to overdose, which obviously isn’t healthy…but I digress.]

Dr. Polman wrote: “When buying gifts for others, for example, we might worry less about whether something will be as effective as advertised because we assume it will have a relatively positive effect on the recipient.” That’s why, he posited, gifts are less practical and more creative than what most would buy for themselves. “This would suggest that people have a blind spot when choosing gifts for others, preferring gifts that dazzle in the short run but have less usefulness in the long run.”

I don’t think this happens when buying gifts for children who often have their hopes pinned on specific toys or games. Fanciful substitutes won’t do.

His research also has impact on a company introducing new products or entrepreneurs launching a business: “New products—and businesses—often fail, and this could be because marketers and entrepreneurs overestimate the benefits that their products will have for others.”

Given that the recipient already owns the basics, do you look for something special that is considered a treat, even an extravagance, that a beneficiary wouldn’t buy for him/herself? An example could be as simple as a luxury Swiss or Belgian hot chocolate powder vs. a generic grocery store brand that might already have a place in the pantry. Wouldn’t this also explain how people choose gifts, even if they don’t exactly “dazzle,” in Dr. Polman’s words? How do you decide?

Service of I Can Get It for You At Full Price

Monday, May 10th, 2021

Line at the Gucci shop-in-a-shop at Macy’s

Last fall Meghan McCarty Carino reported in marketplace.org  that according to a McKinsey & Co./LeanIn.org survey, one in four women were considering leaving the workforce. Working women juggling children and jobs have been severely impacted by the pandemic.

I wondered: Are children sure their mom wanted something extravagant this year? A hug, surprise visit or day off from daily chores would seem to be the most precious gifts. Yet on Mother’s Day eve there was a line outside the Gucci shop-in-shop at Macy’s at Herald Square. There were thousands of gifts to buy in that oversized emporium. The iconic Gucci brand isn’t known for bargains. Crucial sectors of the economy are still in upheaval in this neck of the woods.

New store on Second Avenue and 47th Street

To illustrate, pedestrians can’t miss a recent gut wrenching epidemic of small retail closings in downtown Manhattan as workers don’t seem to be returning to offices anytime soon. My heart leapt with happiness when I saw a handsome new store, Stellar Hardware and Bath, open at 900 Second Avenue in the 40s. Someone sees promise in the city!

We hear about available jobs–seasonal businesses in southern N.J., gearing up for summer, are short on employees. Some reporters use the crisis word to describe the scarcity. But salaries connected with these positions don’t allow for luxury gifts.

“Both the unemployment rate, at 6.1 percent, and the number of unemployed persons, at 9.8 million, were little changed in April,” according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on May 7. “Notable job gains in leisure and hospitality, other services, and local government education were partially offset by employment declines in temporary help services and in couriers and messengers.”

Topsy Turvey–right? Clearly there’s a hunger for expensive things. Kanye West’s Nike sneakers recently sold at Sotheby’s for $1.8 million and a computer file with a digital creation by Beeple sold for $69 million two months ago.

Beeple, Mike Winkelmann, is a Charleston, S.C.-based graphic designer whose costly digital creation is a nofungible token–NFT-based art. Digital art is a hot trend in the art world. In a New York Times guest essay Albert-Laszlo Barabasi wrote that NFTs “use blockchain technology to certify authenticity and proof of ownership. (Beeple’s piece was a collage of images that he had posted online every day since 2007.)”  Techterms.com describes a blockchain as “a digital record of transactions. The name comes from its structure, in which individual records, called blocks, are linked together in single list, called a chain. Blockchains are used for recording transactions made with cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, and have many other applications.”

Do you give, receive or expect extravagant gifts these days? Do you see value in digital art, uber luxury goods or in anyone’s sneakers?

Atlantic City in southern New Jersey. Photo: acchamber.com

Service of Second Hand Clothes: Good Enough to Give

Thursday, December 19th, 2019

Photo: medium.com

I wrote about J. C.  Penney’s second hand clothes department in “Service of Second Hand Clothes: Thrift in Unexpected Places.” At Poshmark, his online business, Manish Chandra has added cachet to used clothing.

Chandra told Charity L. Scott in The Wall Street Journal: “We expect this to be a marquee year for secondhand items being gifted. I remember, a few years back, you might try to hide that you bought it on Poshmark. Today, it’s actually fun to say, ‘I bought it on Poshmark,’ and it’s something that people are even sharing shopping tips on.”

Scott reported: “Poshmark looks and behaves much like Instagram, incentivizing sellers to give and receive comments and ‘likes’ and allowing users to follow their favorite sellers. Similar to eBay, sellers take photos of their own items and sell them directly. Poshmark takes a 20% cut of many sales.”

The company added home goods to its offerings. In eight years, it says it paid “more than $2 billion in sale proceeds to its roughly seven million sellers.” Chandra said “Our mission is to empower anybody to become a retailer, [so] we want to keep the playing field super level.”

Chandra said “We think of Marie Kondo” [responsible for the trend to de-clutter] “as a specific moment in the evolution of reselling and re-commerce.” Kondo is the Japanese organizing consultant and author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” [2011].

Would you give a second hand item as a gift? Have you sold or bought something on Poshmark or any of its competitors such as Mercari, eBay, Etsy, Tradesy, Amazon or Wish? Do you browse and buy from thrift stores?

Photo: inform.com

Service of Receiving a Flawed Shipped Gift: Whom to Tell?

Monday, March 11th, 2019

Frozen flowers

Retailers—traditional and e—make it increasingly easier to send wonderful gifts. But what if the gift arrives damaged? Does the recipient tell the gift giver, the vendor, both or none?

Photo: pinterest

According to family legend my great Aunt Frieda called a fancy food purveyor—one of the best in NYC in the day–to ask them to remove a brace of over-ripe, too-long dead pheasants gifted her by well-meaning friends. I remember hearing that they smelled horrific but I don’t recall if she ever told the friends about the rancid poultry or merely thanked them.

More recently, Erica sent her newly widowed aunt armloads of spring flowers. Her aunt lives in Minnesota. The delivery man left the blossoms in the [very] cold outside her front door where they froze therefore hurrying them to their demise. Erica’s mom urged her aunt to tell her. Aunt hesitated as she didn’t want to hurt her feelings. She wrote: “I think they would be very lovely if they were not frozen. Your Mom asked me to send you a photo. Love.” Erica immediately called ProFlowers—that never before had disappointed her—and sent them this photo [above] as evidence.

A florist doing business in Minnesota should know to call–especially in winter–before delivering to a house to ensure that someone is home to accept the fragile package.

Photo lakesiepottery.com

Sometimes it’s not the fault of the vendor. My father told a story of a stingy millionaire who visited a well known Paris boutique and chose, for a wedding gift, an important porcelain piece by a manufacturer of luxury brands. He found it on a clearance shelf, broken. Its condition was reflected in the price. Not wanting its reputation tarnished or to be left holding the bag by having to replace an object that might appear to have been broken in transit, boutique staff carefully wrapped each of the broken pieces separately and placed each shard, with Monsieur Stingy’s card, in the boutique’s distinctive gift box. I love this story. I don’t know if it really happened or if he was sharing a lesson about what can happen to the tightfisted.

Have you received a shipped gift that was somehow flawed? Did you notify the vendor, the giver or both? Under what, if any, circumstances would you NOT tell the giver? How did you feel when someone reported a problem with a gift you sent? Would you have preferred that they notify the vendor and keep you out of it?

Photo: farmboxdirect.com

Service of Fleeting Impressions: Eye-Popping Displays, a Dash of Vintage and Middle Eastern Vibes at NY Now

Monday, August 27th, 2018

MT masking tape, Japan

In a quick visit to NY Now, the former New York International Gift Fair, I saw striking, contemporary displays by companies with decades under their belts as well as vintage-inspired products and some Middle Eastern accents.

MT, a Japanese masking tape manufacturer, had a most outstanding display [photo above and below right].

MT masking tape, Japan

At first I thought I was looking at long plastic straws in wonderful colors suspended from above and only on closer inspection did I realize that I was looking at unrolled spools of masking tape meticulously installed! MT’s tape is made of Washi paper. Its website claims that the paper is strong and “extremely thin compared with those made in other countries.” The company—its factory launched in 1923–stands by its adhesive which it claims leaves no trace when removed. Its color range may be more extensive than most. For sure its booth designer is visionary and the installers extremely patient.

Meloria by Graziani, Italy

My photo doesn’t do justice to the striking Meloria by Graziani booth. Like MT, its fresh look belies the age of the manufacturer: The candle company was founded in Tuscany in 1805 and Meloria is one of its brands. Ball-shaped candles, some, in saturated colors, joined pastel hues and naturals reminiscent of lush hedges, cherries, cabbages and oranges as well as a shiny black 8-ball. Unlike many booths crowded with choices, this one focused on only two shapes, the ball and tapers with a twist.

Alexander Girard wooden dolls

You couldn’t miss the giant replicas of Alexander Girard’s family of wooden dolls in the Vitra booth. The original human and animal characters designed by Girard in 1953 to decorate his home in Santa Fe are in the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany. According to the website, the dolls are made and painted by hand today and precisely replicate the originals.

Filt string bags

Mahogany

Booths with a vintage spirit included Mahogany’s flannel nightwear in patterns inspired by the 40s and 50s and Filt’s string bags colored brightly to distinguish them from the natural originals that for decades European shoppers brought to the market to fill with comestibles.

I noticed a Middle Eastern vibe in some of the booths such as Zenza Home, Selamat Designs and jazzy tablemats in the back wall of Kim Sebert’s booth. I also thought the crystal fireplace in Kathryn McCoy’s booth would fit well in a Middle Eastern style manor house.

Have you noticed retailers with remarkable displays, seen or received any great gifts recently or noted striking trends in your forays online or about town? Are you surprised that some venerable brands–a candle manufacturer over 200 years old and a maker of masking tape almost 100–excel at projecting a hip, trendy image?

Kathryn McCoy

Selamat Designs

Zenza Home

Service of Fair Wealth Distribution

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

A homeless man hangs out in a post office satellite the size of a small room that is unattended but has a self-service mail kiosk that I use frequently to weigh and mail packages. I’m afraid to be alone with him so I walk by with package in hand. He’s there on my way to and from work.

A few blocks away I found myself in a Godiva chocolate store earlier this week with a friend who was making a purchase. I noticed the handsome Swarovski luxury box [photo above], priced at $125 or $2.08/per chocolate. There are millions in the city who would relish such a gift to share with family and friends but I don’t think that they will be the recipients. I envision the executives and business owners who will receive it who may wince at the calories or put the box out at the reception area or not even bother to take it out of its gift bag.

All the talk about the one percent got me thinking of something that has always been true: The people who don’t need and often could care less about expensive gifts receive them. This goes for taxes, benefits and holiday presents.

Photo: amazon.com

Which led me to think: I wish that there was a City Harvest for holiday business gifts. City Harvest rescues food from restaurants and other venues with leftovers in NYC and distributes it to the hungry. This hypothetical organization would scoop up unwanted or unneeded executive gifts and redistribute them to those who would appreciate them.

However, the concept wouldn’t work because corporations send notes to vendors asking them to restrict gift-giving to a modest sum, maybe $25, or they forbid gifts altogether. Executives receive their gifts at home. And they can’t admit to receiving expensive gifts as they aren’t supposed to get them so how could they volunteer to give away something they shouldn’t own in the first place?

Some businesses send electronic holiday wishes noting that they donate to charity the money normally spent on cards and postage. I hope they really do.

I don’t mean to pick on Godiva or other purveyors of luxury treats and manufacturers of gifts like chef’s knives, drones and wireless headphones. It just seems that giving fancy business gifts to the wealthy is like bringing diamonds to Amsterdam.

Similarly, does it make sense for the wealthiest to benefit from the tax plan that’s about to be voted on in Washington, causing a deficit for the poorest and middle class to shoulder via paltry tax reductions and reduced Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits?

If you were giving a gift to a wealthy client, what would it be?

Photo: metro.us

Service of Self Restraint

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Photo: jbsa.mil

Many stretch their money to give a little or big something to family and friends at this time of year. If you don’t put self restraint to work, you literally pay the price. I had a great idea for a gift for 2 good friends but to implement it meant spending a ridiculous sum. It’s not every day you think of the perfect gift for people who have everything but common sense said “move on.” I did so far.

Photo: foodiesnyc.com

There’s a new bakery that also sells sandwiches and salads near my office. I’ve been in twice to reconnoiter and I’ve left empty handed. One small beautiful pastry, that may or may not be tasty, costs what a scrumptious, though not as glam, cake does at Trader Joe’s. The price of an éclair, gone in two bites–far smaller than standard size–is $4.95.

Photo: yelp.com

I love flowers but daily pass by the many delis that sell tempting sunflowers and roses in peach, yellow and magenta. It makes no sense to buy them for myself. In summer, our apartment gets too hot when we’re not home so they don’t last long and in winter, the shock of the overheated apartment, when they come in from the cold, kills them pronto. And anyway, I have a collection of orchids, many of which, as I write, show signs of blossoms to come. When they bloom in winter I’m enchanted. In spring I cut daffodils, lilacs, peonies and daisies.

Self restraint isn’t any easier if faced with dietary restrictions. It rarely fails: people are forced to give up things they most love to eat. Was anyone advised to avoid grouse or liver ? [the two foods I most dislike].

Are you good at self-restraint? What are your tricks for avoiding temptation?

Photo: cartoonmovement.com

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