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Dear Santa: Here's My Registry

Many retailers such as the Kohls, Walmart and Kmart in Shelby Township now offer a convenient way to share wish lists with online gift registries, but an expert says beware the pitfalls of electronic gift-seeking.

If you’re still stumped about gifts for those last few people on your Christmas list, you might want to check their online gift registries.

Yes, the traditional letter to Santa might still be the preferred method of dropping hints about what kids — or kids at heart — want for Christmas. But some are opting for store registries and wish lists as a way to convey holiday hints to friends and family.

Some families even take the tradition of mailing off that letter to Santa into a totally virtual experience. Websites like Santa.com and Santa’s Hideout allow kids to write their Santa letters online, create wish lists to share with family and friends, interact with elves, read blogs from Santa, play games and do activities, all under their parents’ supervision.

As noted in a recent , children can now be found roaming the aisles of local retailers, such as , with electronic scanners, selecting gifts for their personalized gift registries.

And these registries aren’t just for holiday gifts. Birthdays, bar mitzvahs, graduations and other kid celebrations can be occasions to create a gift wish list.

The ups and downs of wish lists

There are several advantages to electronic registries, both for the gift-giver and the recipient, according to Katelyn Leondi, manager of corporate communications for Toys R Us.

Leondi said the allows families to customize a child's list with the appropriate toys for a child’s age and abilities. Knowing just what to buy avoids duplicate gifts and time spent making returns. Returns are easy since store employees can look up transactions on the registry for an easy exchange. And the registries can be easily shared by email or social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Since Toys R Us launched its Wish List feature in 2009, more than 1.5 million lists have been created by parents, along with their kids, for special occasions throughout the year, Leondi said.

But can giving a child an electronic gun and setting them loose in a store to pick gifts set up unrealistic expectations for gifts?

“The exercise of building a Wish List can be used as an opportunity to teach kids about the cost of certain products and which items are within a family's budgetary reach, so they are not disappointed if they do not receive a particular toy,” Leondi wrote in email.

Be aware that some people might be uncomfortable with gift registries because they can create an uncomfortable situation of social comparison and competitive behavior, according to Simon Garcia, associate professor of psychology and organizational studies at the University of Michigan.

Seeing what’s on other people’s registries could lead to competitive gift-seeking, especially if there is a perception of a “high-brow” registry versus a “low-brow” registry, Garcia said. People might feel like the pricier registries put them in a situation where they can’t afford to purchase a gift, or people with registries at swanky retail shops might look down on their neighbors registered with discount stores.

“It might take away the gift-giving joy once you puncture the spirit of gift-giving. The spirit of gift-giving is not materialist, but these lists might make them materialistic,” Garcia said.

Online options fit consumer needs

There are lots of options for those who find the convenience of wish lists appealing. Brick-and-mortar retail stores like , Pottery Barn, and offer registries that go beyond just wedding and baby gifts. , for instance, has an online registry called “Special Days to celebrate birthdays, holidays, graduations or other occasions. And online retailers like Amazon give consumers the option of creating wish lists year round to give friends and relatives gift ideas.

If you’re looking to create wish lists for groups of friends, family or coworkers, sites like Giftster.com, GiftGaff.com and MyGiftList.com give users the option of creating multiple wish lists with different audiences for any occasion. The site helps users keep track of who got what among all the friends and family and keeps the purchases a secret from the recipient, preserving the surprise.

And to tie all your registries together, sites like MyRegistry.com let users create one centralized registry for any gift occasion, and give the flexibility to choose gifts from any store in the world, regardless of size.

MyRegistry.com also notes that “many organizations and nonprofits use MyRegistry.com as a valuable fundraising tool and convenient resource for requesting supplies and other items for donation.”

Garcia sees that as a good thing. He says electronic gift registries could be beneficial for a charitable cause, like creating a wish list for a family that can’t afford gifts.

“If you had a registry in that instance, it would be promoting the greater good,” Garcia said. “In that sense it could leave other people with a warm glow in helping another family.”

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