I’ve spent some time recently talking to small business owners in our industry about how they interact with their customers for the holidays, and it got me to thinking about the natural extension, which is the actual giving of gifts to customers and employees during the holiday season.

For business owners, the holiday season is the perfect time to give something special to everyone who supports your business throughout the year.  However, it’s important to make sure you give gifts in a way that won’t offend or create awkward situations for you, with those who are most important to the success of your small business.  After doing some research on the subject, I decided this would be the perfect time to create a guide on the etiquette of business gift giving, and share some pointers on choosing gifts that are appropriate, appreciated and remembered for all the right reasons!

#1)  Follow your company guidelines.  You should have guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOP’s) for running your store, but do your guidelines address gift-giving?  Some companies have policies about what kind of gifts their employees may receive, and guidelines on gifts (including types and amounts) that may be given to customers. One popular customer-related holiday gift that business owners seem to love to give during the holidays is a gift of wine or spirits.  If giving the gift of alcohol to your most valuable clients is something you’re considering this year, I found a handy guide from Food & Wine that will make sure all your choices are merry & bright!

#2)  Set a budget.  Deciding on an amount to spend on each gift can be one of the trickiest parts when it comes to business gift giving etiquette.  When it comes to your employees, many retailers give a combination of both bonus money, along with a small gift for the holidays.  Buying gifts for vendors, partners and special clients is area that gets a little more tricky.  Setting a budget can help narrow down the urge to spend excessively, as well as avoiding embarrassment.  What could be more embarrassing than to have your corporate gift taken home bye the receiver and immediately placed in the “re-gifting” pile?

#3)  Rethink the urge to give gifts with your company logo.  While the urge might be strong to use holiday season corporate gift giving as an extension of your annual PR and Marketing campaign, I strongly advise against it.  It’s common for businesses to decide to give a useful item like a tote bag or hat for a holiday gift, but those are better saved for conventions, or giveaways during in-store special events.  The whole idea behind gift giving is to show your appreciation to the recipient, not to turn it into an annual marketing opportunity that benefits your company. 

#4)  Personalize when possible.  Again, that means personalized for the recipient, not for your company!  I know it’s not always possible for business owners to purchase different gifts for each employee, partner, vendor or client. But if you have a manageable gift list, try to purchase individual gifts that are relevant to each.  In this case, a perfect choice would be a heart-felt card for each person (nothing generic, please!), along with a gift card, or online gift certificate geared to their tastes.  Have a coffee lover on your list?  Think outside the Starbucks box, and find a company online that has an interesting selection of coffee they might not have ever shopped for themselves.  Veteran-owned Black Rifle Coffee Company has great gift ideas, gift subscriptions and gift cards available through their site.  Know someone who loves to be pampered?  Skip the standard Bath and Bodyworks gift basket this year, and elevate your gift giving game with a gift from Molton Brown of London.  Not only do they offer FREE standard shipping in the U.S. on every purchase, but they also have a great selection of corporate gifts, gifts for men and gift collections as well.

#5)  Think twice, and then twice more about giving “humorous” gifts.  This is especially true when giving gifts to employees or long-time customers.  If there is any reason to believe the gift might be misconstrued, could hurt feeling, or be deemed offensive to anyone, don’t do it!

#6)  Don’t assume everyone celebrates Christmas.  I’m proud that our industry recognizes and embraces the fact that the December holiday calendar is a collection of celebrations, rather than just one.  Holiday parties and gifts are pretty widely accepted within our industry. However, if you make gifts very specific to the Christmas season, it could backfire and make people who don’t celebrate uncomfortable. The best gifts are those that are thoughtful, useful and heartfelt, and that convey the connection between the giver and the receiver.

#7)  Don’t forget to say “Thank You!”  Just as you have to think about giving gifts for the holidays to customers who are special, or employees, partners and vendors who are integral to your success, those people are also thinking of giving gifts to you as well.  It’s imperative that when you receive gifts, that you acknowledge them as quickly as possible.  A verbal “thank you” is great, but a handwritten note is even better!

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