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How to get the wedding registry gifts you want

With the advent of the spring wedding season comes the dreaded tasks of setting up gift registries and picking out presents. One tip: Avoid hammers, saws, and love seats.

A recent study of online wedding registries coauthored by a Brandeis University professor shows that couples are more likely to receive gifts off their registry if they ask for dining items, like china and silver, barware, and small kitchen appliances and list at pricier stores than those who ask for furniture or tools or list at less expensive retailers.

The study, which surveyed more than 32,000 items listed across 555 registries, also suggests that attendees determine how much to spend in part based on the range on the registry.


“The brand name of the store is important, the categories are important, and the average price of the registry is important,” said Xin Wang, an assistant professor at Brandeis’s International Business School who coauthored the statistical analysis published in the International Journal of Electronic Marketing and Retailing. “If you’re not careful about what you list on the registry, you might not get what you wish for, and you’ll probably get something else that you don’t want.”

Xin Wang

Wang said that gift buyers want their presents to be useful, wanted, and needed, and they try to appear, if not generous, at least not cheap, with the closeness of their tie to the couple a significant factor in spending.

Bloomingdale’s and Crate & Barrel boasted the highest rate of gifts bought off a wedding registry out of seven department and specialty stores with a wish fulfillment rate of 63 percent each, compared to only 20 percent of total items bought off registries at Sears, 45 percent at Kohl’s, and 47 percent at Macy’s, according to the study.

“This is really big, and shows people’s perceptions about which stores have the best gifts,” Wang said. “Bloomingdale’s has a higher-end image, so people might think you can’t go wrong with a Bloomingdale’s product.”


As may be expected, items at higher-end chains tended to have higher prices. Bloomingdale’s average registry item was the highest of all seven stores at nearly $70, compared to Kohl’s average of $19 and Sears’ $51.

As far as actual gifts, the study found that couples generally received the highest fulfillment rates for dining and bar products at 61 percent, and small appliances at 56 percent.

Wang said the practicality of the items could explain why they are so popular among wedding attendees.

“I think dining and bar items are more traditional, and people think you can’t go wrong with this kind of gift,” Wang said. “Appliances are also very versatile and popular, and something people think the wedding couple will use a lot.”

The least popular gifts proved to be furniture and tools, Wang said, with registry fulfillment rates of 35 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

“When you purchase something for a wedding couple, you want it to look nice. Even though they said they want tools, you don’t want to be the one who gave them the tools,” she added with a laugh.

And while furniture passes the attractiveness test, it can feel like too much. “Besides the fact that it is not a typical wedding gift, furniture tends to be much more expensive then the rest of the products on the registry,” she said.


Other products often found on wedding registries, like home décor and bed and bath items, generally see decent play from gift buyers with a 42 percent fulfillment rate, Wang said.

The study also offers insight into how wedding guests decide on spending levels. The report indicated they seem to roughly calculate the average price of items on a registry and use it as a baseline, forking out more or less, depending on their financial situation and how well they know the couple.

“Our study finds there are two competing thought processes: Some go to the wedding because of obligation, and feel like they have to give a gift, but might want to save money,” Wang said. “Others, like close relatives or friends, may want to go above and beyond and give a really fancy gift, and will spend more.”

Couples armed with this knowledge can craft a wish list that will give them the best chance of getting what they really want, she said.

“Because wedding guests are influenced by average price, you have to select your registry carefully because there’s a better chance you will be happier with the result,” Wang said. “If your average registry price is $20, your gifts will probably be around $20.”

Wang said the study’s findings could also help department and specialty stores as they advise couples on what to list on their registries as well as help overwhelmed gift givers find the perfect present.

“It’s a win-win-win situation,” she said.


Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @JaclynReiss.