Monday, January 2, 2012

Is it poor etiquette to sell your unwanted gifts on e-Bay?

"I Love It.  It's Just What I Wanted..."

Opening gifts in front of the person who gave them to us, is always a bit nerve-wracking.  As you work away at the wrapping, the gift-giver's anticipation is palpable.  You can just feel their desire for you to love it, their wish that this year, they've hit a home run.  As you get closer to the big reveal, you steel yourself for a case of lunchbox letdown.  If you already have an "appropriate" gift in mind, say an engagement ring, the stakes are even higher and your disappointment will be even greater if what's in the box is not what you expected.  Even if you have no preconceived notions of what you would like, there's still a chance that the present will be hideous, unusable, or inappropriate (in your opinion at least).  To save face and avoid hurt feelings, most of us have perfected our "I love it" gift face over time.  Even if what we're feeling inside is more like, "I won't be caught dead in this thing" we slap on a smile, tell the person it's perfect and give them an appreciative hug.  As a gift-giver, I have been on the receiving end of many of these forced smiles and I can tell you, I always know they're faking and I'm always hurt.

Today, regifting is common and, as long as proper etiquette is followed (e.g. don't give it back to the person who gave it to you), it is considered acceptable social behaviour.  Although I've indulged in regifting impersonal items like chocolates and wine, I've never been able to do it when it involves a gift that someone put an effort into choosing because I know how I feel when the tables are turned.  If someone tells me they'd like to exchange a gift I bought them, I smile, hand over the receipt and mumble something about wanting them to be satisfied but inside, I'm usually quite hurt, especially if I spent a lot of time picking a gift I thought they would love. It's possible that the people who have given me gifts I don't like do not feel the same way.   Maybe they see gift-giving as a crap-shoot and are not offended if someone doesn't like their gift.  Maybe they prefer to have the person exchange it for something they would like over stuffing it into the back of a closet. But, I can only approach it from my point of view and I always take it personally.  Besides, when gifts come from certain people (e.g. my husband), I instantly love it even if it's something I would never choose for myself.  I love it because he picked it and wearing it is symbolic of our relationship.

So I was surprised and saddened to read over the holidays that, while all other retail outlets experience a post-holiday sales slump, e-Bay and kijiji, are swamped with people intent on converting their unwanted Christmas gifts into cash.  Both sites apparently received a steady stream of new posting of electronic and apparel items in the days after December 25th with some people unloading unwanted gifts mere hours after receiving them.  As explained in the previous paragraph, I am somewhat sentimental about gift-giving and that colours my view but to me, there is a certain callousness to this practice that just didn't feel right.  It turns the tradition of gift-giving into a transaction where people believe they deserve to get whatever they want or at the very least, the post-retail cash value of what they received.  One young woman quoted in the article said that she had "earned" $400 last year by converting Christmas gifts into cash and to make unloading unwanted presents easier, e-Bay has created a mobile app that allows disappointed gift recipients to take a picture of something immediately after opening it so they can create an instant listing.

Some would say taking to the Internet to dispose of unwanted goods is a positive development.  Maybe in this over-cluttered age of hyper-consumerism, there's no good reason for us to store things we neither need nor want. If we're going to unload a present anyway, perhaps it's more sensitive to the gift-giver to do it anonymously behind the veil of our e-Bay avatars rather than fess up that we hate it.  I guess, if I really think about it, it's the haste that disturbs me and I'm not alone.  One of my favourite authors, Alexander McCall Smith, suggests we wait at least a month and then, if we still don't want it, give it away or sell it with the proceeds going to charity.  Like me, he's uncomfortable with the notion of selling it purely for profit.

Personally, I don't think we can trust our immediate reactions when it comes to gifts.  We might feel that it's ghastly or wildly inappropriate but maybe we should let it marinate for a while.  I have a few cherished items on my mantle, in my closet and in my jewellery box that were gifts from people who knew me better than I knew myself at the time. I was disappointed when I opened them but I grew to love them and over the years, they have become a connection between me and the gift-givers, some of whom are now deceased.  I would never get to experience that if I had immediately tried to get rid of it.

What do you think about selling unwanted holiday gifts? Smart solution or etiquette faux pas?


  1. This reminds me of a video I watched recently, where all the Tweets sent out about how unhappy people were with their gifts were collated and basically, mocked for their ungratefulness (first world problems!).

    I have no problem with re-gfiting, in fact just yesterday my husband and I re-gifted something we'd received as a wedding gift (we've been married 6 years and never used it).

    But as you say, there is an obvious need for tact. The main rule is, of course, don't give it back to the person who gave it to you (in fact I won't re gift anything 'memorable' within groups of people who are acquainted with one another). And try being grateful for what you've received - so your new laptop isn't the exact model you wanted, you've got a laptop, don't you?

  2. Hi Rina,
    Thanks for stopping by. I saw those tweets too and I was mortified. But I'm glad we live in a society where such things are at least still worthy of being mocked. When they become totally acceptable, then we're in trouble.

  3. As someone who isn't sentimental about most gifts and doesn't mind when someone regifts me, I don't like the idea of turning unwanted gifts into cash. Someone has taken the time to be generous and think of you... the least a person can do is pay it forward and think about someone else.

  4. You're so right Martin. I was leaning more towards learning to love something you didn't actually want but many people have suggested the solution lies in paying it forward, preferably as a gift or donation. Hopefully this cash-converting trend is not a sign of things to come.