Recycle Unwanted Gifts Online

From re-gifting to de-gifting, without guilt

by Dennis L. Prince
- Nov 05, 2008

According to the Seinfeld Primer, re-gifting is the practice of giving away a gift you've received from someone else, an item that you decided is of no use (or desire) to you. And while superficially considered bad practice, almost half of all Americans re-gift, according to those analytical tattletales at the United Mileage Plus Visa Card Shopping Index.

The newest twist on recycling gaudy jewelry, garish holiday sweaters and carbon-dated fruitcakes is the opportunity the Internet provides to easily de-gift such goods. That's right, if you don't like it, you can offer these items for sale or bid on the worldwide marketplace. Of course, there's a bit of careful navigation required to maneuver the potential minefield of being found out as you offload unwanted presents from friends and relatives. Before you begin selling, be sure your great aunt Pat isn't expecting to see her hideous metal sculpture the next time she visits (and hope she isn't reading this, either!).

Is it right to de-gift?

It starts with ethics and the first hurdle to clear is the most perplexing to some: Is it proper to even consider selling a gift recently given to you? Well, as re-gifting has gained acceptance in our society, de-gifting is similarly poised for equal acceptance for the frugal, fiscally minded and Internet-enlightened among us. And, nowadays, some even claim it is environmentally responsible, by preventing additional manufacturing of such items and helping keep landfills free of immediate castaways. Who knows, there may be someone out there trolling eBay or elsewhere in cyberspace who can truly appreciate a gift you simply cannot warm up to. Yet, with ethics being the crux of this question of de-gifting, why not get advice from an ethics expert? According to Judith Martin, aka "Miss Manners," re-gifting is fine—provided you don't get caught.

"If you're going to recycle a gift, you must cover all traces that it's been given before," Martin warns (shrewd since she, too, has confessed to re-gifting).

Of course, getting caught de-gifting an item online is less risky than re-gifting it at next year's cozy holiday exchange. However, de-gifting involves gaining cash for the item. Is this an ethical taboo?

Many sellers have claimed that selling a 'one-off' item ultimately helped them branch into a new commodity

Ethics columnist Randy Cohen sees nothing wrong with selling an unwanted gift. "If you accept the idea that (re-gifting) is OK, then I think a sale is OK—unless you believe touching money taints you," he explains.

Ultimately, it comes down to your personal value system and how much of a beating your conscience might take if you sell a gift. Of course, returning the item to where it was originally purchased doesn't seem to yield a much different result—only the method changes.

Marketing your de-gifted goods

Now, assuming you've decided it's OK to offer your unwanted gifts online, you need to decide where you'll put them up for sale. Naturally, eBay seems like the most obvious option of re-distribution because it has become the first site that comes to mind when people think of unloading unwanted goods or seeking out an odd item. In fact, analyst Daniel Mackeigan has noted that auction sites like eBay tend to triple their gross sales after the winter holidays, so you're in good company.

A start at eBay, then, will most likely help you find an appreciative owner for your wayward gifts since millions of shoppers continue to scour the online marketplace even after the holidays. But the nagging question you might encounter could be, "Should I actually admit this is an unwanted gift?"

Depending on the item, you might not need to divulge anything—garish holiday ties and Chia Pets seem to voluntarily shout out their Yuletide provenance. But if you want to have a bit of fun, you might explain that you're de-gifting an item that either didn't fit you or is something you already have. With a wink and a smile, you will likely add a bit of charm to the item in the bidders' eyes. Why not?

Take heed of the original caveat of re-gifting: Ensure the original gift-giver will not find out

Then again, if the item might be a collectible, there's really no disclosure required—it's just another item that you're offering up for bid in a marketplace that regularly accommodates such goods. You may even find that these goods, if outside your usual inventoried offerings, could lead you to new customers and vice versa. Many sellers have claimed that selling a "one-off" item ultimately helped them branch into a new commodity.

Then there's the handmade gift that can't be bought in stores (and sometimes for good reason). If you've received a spotted, speckled, sculpted bird that you're unlikely to ever encounter again—if you're lucky—market it as a "one-of-a-kind" piece. Handmade goods are quite popular online, and while the ceramic gooney may not enhance your current decorating scheme, it might be just the ticket for a customer out there seeking a truly unique item.

And while you may elect to post a de-gifted item to your online fixed-price venue (if you have one), you should take heed of the original caveat of re-gifting: Ensure the original gift-giver will not find out. So if your friend Susie likes to frequent your eBay listings or other Web-based store to see what you're selling, make sure the purple-and-orange ceramic frog she gave you isn't prominently priced to sell. Oops!

Guilty conscience?

If you're still struggling with the moral issue of whether to sell a gift that just didn't strike your fancy, avoid the guilt and hang on to the item for six to 12 months. If, after that time, you're still no closer to embracing the whatchamacallit, consider again whether it's time to set it free in the online wilderness.

About the Author

Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay…and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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