By Michelle Moran
This year, our three-part gift registry series will
examine how retailers across the country have constructed the gift
registry portion of their business. In Part I, we discuss what to
do to prepare for gift registry, and then in Part II, we'll take
you through how retailers work with registry customers and their
guests, and finally, in Part III, we'll illustrate successful follow-up
strategies. If you believe you have a great gift registry story
to tell and would like it to be included in this series, please
contact Michelle Moran at email@example.com.
If you build it, they will come. Actually, if you
build it correctly after researching your demographics and understanding
your customers' needs, they will come.
Just as in the case of opening a retail store, the
business of gift registry requires due diligence before a successful
operation can begin.
Check out the Competition
Whenever you think gift registry, don't limit your
thinking to bridal registry. Today's gift registry should be all
encompassing and offer all your customers and their friends the
opportunity to register for any upcoming life event. Begin your
research by looking first at the competition and second at your
own customers' needs.
"We went out and looked at every registry we
could. There was a team of us who went out and registered. We put
together a questionnaire of what worked and what didn't so when
we started our own registry system, we knew what we were looking
for," explained Carol Nockold, Sur La Table area manager and
registry team leader. "One of the things that was important
to us is that it's not a bridal registry — it's a gift registry
for any occasion. A part of our demographics is an older group who
aren't necessarily going to get married."
Nockold continued, "It's absolutely key to
understand the demographics of the customers. Who is going to come
in for a registry? You have to know who your registry customer is
— that's why we didn't want one that just appealed to bridal."
Elsa Pinto-Melikian, president of Your Registry,
Inc., a Sacramento, Calif.-based gift registry service provider,
"You need to create a
sense of exclusivity. For example, stores that have dedicated gift
registry areas illustrate that they treat their customers special.
That's how you attract and keep gift registry customers," she
continued. "Ultimately, it's not what your competitor is doing
that will make the difference, it's how you can create a special
experience for your customers by knowing what they like —
that will keep customers loyal to you. Big-box retailers are impersonal,
so you need to make it personal, interesting, and fun. Have the
store be a reflection of what you love — that energy will
resonate within the customer. Still, you can't attract or treat
or follow up until you are prepared to support your registry program
Competitive tips include enlisting
your friends to register with every store that offers gift registry
in your region, plus getting listed on a few online locations. Have
your friends note what the stores offer, including any special services;
how the registry is marketed; and what type of service they received.
For online registries, be sure to see how the sign-up operates and
how accessible it is for guests.
"The biggest mistake I
see out there personally is that store owners treat gift registry
as an afterthought," Pinto-Melikian said. "They need to
create a sense of excitement. The treatment has to be respectful,
educational, and most of all accessible."
If you've never had a gift registry before or haven't
really concentrated on this part of your business, consider that
conservative estimates show registry is a good source of additional
income, providing a potential of 12 to 25 percent of your total
store sales. Jane Fowler, co-owner of Gourmet Pantry in Lubbock,
Texas, began offering gift registry service three years ago.
"We think it's a lucrative business and it's
certainly a wonderful off-season business," she explained.
"We developed a very strong third and fourth quarter in our
gourmet business but our springtime was really weak. Then, we completed
the picture with gift registry and we are every bit as busy in the
springtime as we are in the fall and winter."
With those numbers dancing in your head, you may
want to jump with both feet into the fray. But stop right there.
Gift registry is not a simple undertaking and should be given the
same consideration as when you first thought of opening your store.
Making sure that the registry project is financially feasible is
critical. Unless you are independently wealthy, most of you are
trying to make a living with your bricks-and-mortar store.
Registry veterans suggest meeting with your accountant,
staff, partners, and banker — everyone involved — to
review your current financial picture. Discuss this project's potential
costs and how they would "fit" into that picture to be
sure the registry project does not cause financial stress. In your
discussions, consider how this "project" will fit in with
other plans you have for the store's growth.
From these meetings and discussions, create a financial
"goal" for the program. It is crucial to create realistic
expectations with measurable "milestones," allowing you
and your staff a sense of accomplishment. Create a monthly/yearly
outline of expected expenses for the registry project. Include advertising,
printing, personnel, hardware and software costs, plus printing,
Web site, ISP, and design costs, etc. Compare the project's potential
costs with its potential revenue-generating ability.
"Knowing the long-term effects of the capital
costs associated with entering the registry business will allow
you to manage the cash flow that is necessary to create a state-of-the-art
service," Pinto-Melikian said. "Many merchants simply
cannot afford the cost of 'entry' into this game. This is why big-box
stores dominate the registry business. Do your homework, or you
will be buying software, hardware, or design time you cannot afford."
Organized management of the project will help the
project maintain its momentum and not miss key issues. Do not lose
sight of the gift registry project's goals. Good shepherding is
the key to success. The number-one reason for registry failure is
poor shepherding. Create a time line for completion of the research
and the project's initial launch.
Improving Existing Registry
The first step to improving your gift registry is
to review what it is you're trying to do. Review areas discussed
earlier — your demographics and competition — and conduct
a customer survey in your store, as well as an overview of local
competitive registries. Then look at your registry itself.
According to Pinto-Melikian, 85 percent of gift
registries within independent retailers' stores rely on paper-registry
formats. She recommends reviewing this entire assessment form and
considering a service that is "state of the art"; in other
words, accessible 24/7 over the Internet.
"A small percent, only 15 percent of the market
is buying online; however, the bride and groom will often make the
decision as to where they register based on whether there is online
access to the registry," she said.
Each individual store has to determine its own registry
options, but understand that today's gift registry consumer is Internet
savvy and nearly every retailer we spoke with agreed that some level
of online registry is essential.
For Sur La Table, balancing their Web site with
their bricks-and-mortar outlets was essential. While studies show
most gift registry creation occurs online, a great number of purchases
are actually made in the store. Creating a strong visual in-store
presence with a team of professional staff members who work directly
with customers is critical.
"We knew from our analysis that the majority
of our competitors' registries were created online and the majority
of purchases were made in the store. We wanted people to come into
the store and register easily for anything in the store and then
also have them be able to access it online," Nockold said.
"It is a great way to drive business. It's found business.
Often, it's people who have never been in the store before. You
can gain a brand-new customer for life if you do it right."
That potential new customer is a key reason why
you should consider having gift registry and if you already have
gift registry, that customer is the reason you should be sure it
Sur La Table discovered along the way that its registry
didn't quite measure up. Its first foray into online gift registry
was through a retail portal (a dedicated Web site company grouping
assorted retailers), but as that system changed over time, Nockold
and her team began to seek other options. After researching their
demographics and competition, and polling customers, they chose
to create their own registry housed separately from their online
"Because our Web site doesn't include every
single item we carry in the store, the registry site had to be housed
separately from our Web site. When you have over 12,000 items, getting
photo images is a big challenge," she explained. "It was
hard to find a (registry) company that could work with us. We're
not big enough to build a registry from scratch. In the end, we
have a workable system — it's not perfect, but it's pretty
After nearly a year of research, Sur La Table chose
to go with MarCole Enterprises, using their systems to create their
online registry store. It entailed a long year of studying competition,
plowing through demographics, and testing sites. In the end, a time
crunch presented itself because the contract with their previous
service provider was ending. Nockold said she would have loved more
time to get everything in order and recommends retailers give themselves
at least a year to study their options.
"One of the reasons a retailer would have a
registry system is so that you can follow that part of the business
and track it. Our reporting was pretty weak in the beginning —
we had to develop that as we went along," she continued. "Because
we thought most of the registry would be done in the store with
the scanning device, we didn't have the catalog-search capabilities
online. We didn't think it would be a big deal and it turned out
to be huge. We have finally resolved that and now you can hold our
catalog, type in the SKU, and register for it."
Fowler's roadblock in moving from paper into cyberspace
is also the inventory tracking. While Gourmet Pantry has a successful
Web site and toll-free business, finding the right program to link
their gift registry, bricks-and-mortar, and Web site has been a
"We have searched for good software and have
not been able to find anything to fill our needs. It is really important
to these brides to have their bridal registry online and we're really
missing the boat," she continued. "We have a great Web
site but we haven't been able to get the bridal registry on it with
a link to our inventory system. Tracking has been our biggest problem."
Research. Research. Research.
Just as Sur La Table's registry team discovered,
it requires a lot of legwork to completely understand the option
of gift registry available today and most importantly, select what
fits your store.
Some of the necessary items for a "state-of-the-art"
registry included: Hardware, software, Web site, Internet access,
phone requirements, and other technology you may need. You also
need to review your own time resources and your staff's availability
and enthusiasm for the registry program.
Promoting Your Registry Store
Also important to your gift registry's success is
how you describe it. Not every registry customer will be a bride.
Some guests might want to create ongoing registries or wish lists
for their family and friends to purchase from for a wide range of
holiday and special occasions. Others may be celebrating an anniversary
or a milestone birthday, so be sure to be all inclusive in your
registry promotion, thereby prompting potential customers to consider
their own events as registry worthy.
"We have been promoting it in our catalogs
and we have had contests to get people to register," Nockold
said. "We also have signage in the stores. We have done a few
bridal shows, but that's not really our target audience. Some of
our really successful registries are for people who are registering
for a key birthday — 40th or 50th. We make sure we suggest
a wide price range from a token gift to a really extravagant present
that five people can go in on."
Another area Nockold believes is of critical importance
is policies. Be sure your customers understand your return policies,
and whether store credit or cash back will be offered. Whenever
possible, state your registry policies in any materials you create
describing your registry.
Nockhold explained, "I think it's really important
that people are aware of what their policies are. Make sure policies
are listed up front. It keeps you out of hot water later."
The Gourmet Pantry promotes its gift registry along
with other store features in its twice-daily local television sponsorship
spot that runs prior to the Mr. Food Show. The bridal registry/tabletop
spot rotates with the store's gadgets commercials.
"We have a spot running all the time with dishes
and suggestions for bridal registry, which does really well for
us. Newspaper and radio does nothing for me," Fowler explained.
"Primarily, it has really been word of mouth. One bride leads
to another bride, if you are doing your job right."
While the Fowlers are working hard to change their
own "Bridal Registry" mentality to "Gift Registry,"
it's not been as difficult for their customers who are coming in
to register for a variety of occasions.
"We do not target anything except the bride.
But the gift registry phenomenon is happening by itself. People
are coming in and filling out a registry for themselves, their husbands,
and friends with items they just want for a special event in their
lives," Fowler concluded.
Attract registrants to your store by keeping them
informed. Talk about your registry, even your plans to begin a registry,
in your newsletter and targeted mailings. Invite customers to a
holiday open house during which you explain your registry process,
policies, and perks. Illustrate the popularity of gift registry
every time there's a "Wish List" opportunity in the store
by listing reasons to register — Valentine's Day, housewarmings,
Pinto-Melikian suggests talking to local non-profit
organizations about starting their own "Wish Lists" that
can be promoted in their newsletters.
"It's a phenomenal way to grow your base of
business and help your community. Offer the nonprofit group every
product on the list at a 10-percent discount and they will promote
your registry to their contributor base or congregation."
Be sure to market your registry in your store as
well with signage, flyers, and other visual merchandising. Promote
gift registry with your staff by educating them about the service
and encouraging them to talk to customers about it at every opportunity.
Eventually, the way your potential registrants perceive
and are treated in your store is what will make the difference.
That's the next step in the gift registry process — what to
do with the customers and their guests once you have them in your
store (or at your Web site). We'll discuss all this in 2003 Gift
Registry Series II.
What's Your Style?
Whether you're just starting out on the road to
gift registry or revitalizing an existing program, Your Registry,
Inc. Founder Elsa Pinto-Melikian points out some questions you should
ask yourself. To be a key player in the gift registry game, you
must possess good information. There is no magic about this —
if you know more, you will accomplish more. Once you complete this
"homework" assignment, you will be able to more effectively
target your customers, create more accurate marketing plans, and
formulate smarter strategies. You simply cannot start any program
without completing this information, and you cannot maintain a successful
program without it.
To grow your current business and create "value"
for your customers, you must differentiate yourself from the field.
Whether you are just getting started or you are
currently offering gift registry, it is essential that you know
whom you are up against and how you rate in comparison.
• Who are the stores? Create a dossier on each competitor.
• How far are these stores from your's?
• What products do they carry?
• What advantages do they have?
• What disadvantages do they have?
• How does their service work?
• How does it differ from yours?
• What could your registry service offer or be "like"
in order to attract their customers?
• How much of the registry business in our area can I potentially
• Have you taken a close look at your store lately?
• Do you stock the type of product that people want to include
in their registry?
• Is your store better or different at something?
• Are your products current?
• Are you happy with the quality of product and variety of
product you are carrying?
• How could your store differentiate itself from the competition?
• Do you want to be like your competitor, or do you want to
strike out in a different direction?
• Does your product offering match your customers' likes?
• Do you know "exactly" who lives in your 30-mile
area and who shops in your store?
• Is the population of your area young and of marrying age?
• What is your customers' average income?
• What is the profile of your store's customer?
• Do you have the "type" of customer you want?
• Have your customers asked you for gift registry?
• Have you done a customer survey?
Once you have answered all of the previous questions, the solutions
will come easily, but you must also market your registry correctly
to be effective. Ask yourself the following questions to ensure
• How are you currently marketing your store?
• How can gift registry fit into this current marketing plan?
• How will you specifically promote the gift registry service?
• Does your store have its own unique personality, spirit?
• How does a customer see that spirit?
• Do you know what your "customer" wants?
• How do you plan to advertise your service?
• Have you created a cost analysis sheet for advertising,
marketing, printing, design, and graphic costs?
© 2003 VNU eMedia Inc.