Is the gift shop a necessity or an indulgence? | Michelle Cosier

I’m a professional gift-giver and I’ve met a lot of people through the course of my work. Most of the time, the takers of my gifts are older, self-admittedly refined, and polite. They look very lovely, too: nice clothes, like a beige wool dress with black buttons, or a sharp hat. I have learned a lot from my clients about their style preferences – grey suits, striped t-shirts, oversize hats with cummerbunds.

I’ve even got the bones of what those things mean. I know they are intended as silent signals of prestige. They nod to the suited man about who is the superior one in the room. It’s a fear of being out-cocky, and I trust that there is also an admission that I shouldn’t do it myself.

These days, however, the presents that I give are mostly appreciative tributes to my customers. I’ve learned from them that they prefer a handmade card and a drink in their new boutique. Or handmade cards and no cocktails on their new yacht. I can understand their style choices if I’m not making them. But all these subtle blends of class, formality and accessibility are just becoming too commercial, and I think they’re getting more commercial every day.

On the one hand, it seems stylish to share your customers’ good fortune, but no e-commerce business can survive on tiny margins. The kids on the internet in China are stealing our customers’ style. You need to think hard about whether your business actually needs a profitable gift shop. Perhaps it can be done online, by doing what Amazon does best: there’s no real reason to lose customers to the Chinese. I know from the dozens of “And here’s mine!” emails I get: I need to ask myself: are the card makers among them actually happy with my gift? If not, I think they might be better off not receiving my gifts. It’s just that we’re all in an awkward moment when this question arises. But I don’t want to get myself into this kind of trouble.

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