Design It Saliently And They Won't Re-Gift

Wait! Don't pack up your previously owned Prius and trudge off to the mall with that trunk full of returns just yet. If you haven't been paying rapt attention, new trends have emerged in Consumerville that offer alternatives. Re-gifting, buying second-hand, bartering goods or services and even own a renting plan instead of a payment plan are no longer gauche in these trying economic and socially-conscious-if-it-doesn't-demand-too-much-from-us times.

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the goods recycling movement epitomized by the success of the for-profit ThredUp and the we'll-leave-it-on-the-porch FreeCycle Network sites. A few days ago, the New York Times' Mireya Navarro rounded up even more examples in a story carrying the headline (in the print edition): "This Holiday, Secondhand Items Gain Some Respect."



Among the copious data supporting the theory: The National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops (NARTS) reports that sales this year are up 13%, the strongest showing in five years. NARTS taps into the green theme quite explicitly in its FAQ for the media: "People would rather consign, sell or donate their unwanted or unneeded items than add to the waste stream."

But, really, the bottom line is the bottom line.

"It's really about shifting from consumption to the reality that we can't spend the way we spent before," former Young & Rubicam chief insights officer John Gerzema tells Navarro. Gerzema is co-author of Spend Shift: How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution Is Changing the Way We Buy, Sell and Live.

Taking her queue from Nancy Meyers' romantic comedy, "The Holiday," a friend of mine recently swapped her Malibu beach home for a couple of weeks' stay in a house on Lake Bracciano, 20 miles northwest of Rome. It was a wonderful experience, she reports, with one caveat: "Never, ever include your car in a barter deal with Europeans." Seems the intrepid twentysomethings put a couple of thousand miles on her muffler en route to Vegas and other cultural epicenters on the Westerly Coast.

My friend is also a satisfied member of the Malibu Business and Professional Exchange, which lists $49,114,579.00 in items for sale this morning for anything from personal training services (her specialty) to catering to root canals. It's part of the National Barter Exchange, which provides a FAQ on areas such as marketing and sales tax here.

But if you find that barter demand is low for that Chia Tree with Star Light your wacky brother gave you this year, there are alternatives. First, there's the movement. (Warning: This may be considered in poor taste.)

Or there is, of course, a website where you can share your regifting stories and learn the do's and don'ts of the craft ("A general rule of thumb: if you have to dust it off, it is not regiftable.") Its motto: "It's time to bring regifting out of the supply closet!" And it's apparently never too early to start thinking about the next National Regifting Day, Dec. 15, 2011.

Another way to scratch that de-acquisitive itch is by renting. You can rent-to-own everything from a rocker/recliner to a ersatz fireplace that accommodates up to a 42-inch flat panel TV (which is also for rent and seems a reasonable compromise between the humongous watt-eater in my family room and the teeny flat-screen in my bedroom that, in comparison, is closer to Dick Tracy's 2-Way Wrist Radio). If you weren't previously familiar with Rent-A-Center's existence, you'll find out on Super Bowl Sunday that it's as American as Troy Aikman, as Barry Janoff reports.

E.B. Boyd writes in Fast Company, meanwhile, that sites such as Yardsellr are making eBay look like it was born when the Web was young. Which, of course, it was. Yardsellr lets people list their wants on their Facebook page and then sellers compete to fulfill their desires. It's evidently a seller's market for Chia pets, by the way. My search this morning yielded, "Sorry, we're sold out."

So, what does this mean for those of you who are in the business of selling new tires, not retreads? Design the hell out of your next white wall, and then create an accessory line of automobiles.

Time's Sean Gregory reports on a new study in the Journal of Marketing Research that finds that "when consumers buy a product high in 'design salience' -- in other words, stuff that looks nice -- and subsequently find that the product doesn't fit in with an existing wardrobe or home décor, they're more likely to buy more products to accommodate their new purchase." If it looks like an everyday, run-of-the-mill product, on the other hand, they're more likely to return it. Or, as we have been exploring this morning, barter, re-gift or re-sell it.

You can read a PDF of Vanessa M. Patrick's and Henrik Hagtvedt's 50-page "Aesthetic Incongruity Resolution" here.

Still haven't convinced you to get those prosaically designed earbuds out of the car? Well, if you're headed to Best Buy, make sure you have a government-issued photo ID. It's among the stores that keep a look out for "serial returners," as Detroit Free Press columnist Susan Tompor reports in a survey of retailers' returns policies

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