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Gift Exchange

Are presents in the past tense?

Gift certificates just aren't what they used to be. Oh sure, there will always be paper redeemables for tangible stuff--say, books or clothes--but service-oriented businesses in the know realize that affluent consumers (especially of the middle-aged variety) are developing a hankering for gifts not so easily wrapped.

"Boomers still enjoy spending and indulging," notes Mary Ann McGrath, an associate marketing professor at Loyola University, Chicago, "but they don't necessarily want to take home material things."

What do they want? A day at a spa, perhaps. Or two tickets to a Broadway play. Even passes to golf courses and museums are becoming sought-after gifts, says McGrath.

Not that service businesses are picking up on this demand--at least, not to the extent they should be. "They don't think of it," says McGrath of the many business owners who have yet to tune into the sound of this particular opportunity knocking. What's more, she adds, there's a lack of understanding as to how to market service- or experience-related gift certificates.

"[Businesses] should give something [more than] a piece of paper," McGrath points out. If you have a spa, for example, why not wrap the gift certificate with cosmetics or scented soaps? "You have to package it into something that's a wonderful thing to give," she says. In other words, don't go entirely stuff-free.

This story appears in the July 1998 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »