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Gifts for Customers: How to Get It Right

8-minute read

There's an etiquette to giving gifts to customers, like this small business owner giving a gift to a client.
Simply Business

Simply Business

21 December 2020

Whether it’s the holidays, you’re improving your customer service, or you’re trying to formulate a customer retention program, gift giving can feel a bit tricky – especially if you aren’t used to it and aren’t familiar with the etiquette.

But luckily, I’m here to help! I’ve got the scoop on how to know if you should get gifts for customers, the best gift-giving etiquette, and some of the best customer gift ideas around.

Should You Get Gifts for Customers?

Absolutely, and it’s a really good way to show them your appreciation.

But if you’re still not sure if you should get gifts for your customers, here are a few signs that could help:

  • You have regular customers who have been an integral part of your business. So whether it’s your old faithfuls at the restaurant you run or customers who do business with you on a monthly (or even weekly) basis, these are the people who should be at the top of your gift-giving lift.

  • The person (or people) is one of your biggest customers. This customer is the type of person who makes up a decent portion of your revenue, so it could pay to show them some appreciation when it comes time for gift-giving season.

  • You have the money to do so. Giving gifts to customers can add up quickly, so it’s worth taking a look at your bottom line to see if this works for you. Remember, your gift doesn’t have to be expensive or splashy - it just needs to show you appreciate their business.

  • You want to build some serious word-of-mouth for your business. Giving gifts to customers can create a lot of buzz, especially if you happen to give thoughtful presents. Think of customer gifts as a soft investment in marketing (and if you want to learn more word of mouth marketing techniques, scroll to the bottom of this article!)

Think it’s time to give gifts to your customers?

Keep in mind that there are some etiquette tips to follow – a lot of it depends on your industry too. Generally speaking, these guidelines should help you successfully give the right gift to your customers, and at the appropriate time.

Best Practices for Business Gift Giving

1. Make sure it makes sense for your business.

The type of industry you’re in determines a lot about if and how you do gift giving to customers. If you offer a service people don’t need frequently (such as being a handyman or running an auto shop), it probably doesn’t make too much sense to send customers physical gifts in the mail.

It does, however, work well to offer a discount code “gift” such as 20% off for your birthday, or a 10% off for the holidays.

If you’re in retail and want to show appreciation for frequent customers, it makes more sense to give some small physical gift as a token of appreciation – whether that’s because of a holiday or to emphasize how grateful you are for the people who support local small businesses.

It may be wise to choose something related to what you sell in your shop.

For example, if you own a home goods store and offer a collection of different home décor and essentials, maybe you give clients a soap sample from one of your top-selling product lines.

If you aren’t in retail, or you have a stronger relationship with your customer (i.e. being a consultant, lawyer, real estate agent, etc.), it makes more sense to send a more personalized gift. You spend a lot more time working with your customer and building a relationship, so it’s not out of place to show a gift of appreciation for the consistent business they give you.

You can get even more specific with your gift depending on your trade. If, for example, you are someone’s real estate agent to help them buy a new home, you could give them a housewarming gift after the sale successfully goes through.

Or, if you’re a graphic designer helping a company with their launch campaign, you could send them a gift to congratulate them after they launch.

Whatever it is that you do, just remember that gift giving should make sense for your business!

2. Avoid putting your brand on the gift.

If you are giving someone a gift they can unwrap, don’t put your business’s logo or name on the gift. You might think it’s a good idea to give your customers a wine glass that has your name etched on it, but depending on the customer, it might not come across as genuine.

Make the gift all about the customer – if you want to go the customization route, put the customer’s name on the gift and leave your business out of it.

Bottom line: A lot of people will most likely toss anything that just feels like a promotional item, and you don’t want someone finding your brand in the trash.

3. Resist going cheap.

If you are going to the lengths of gifting a customer with a physical gift (especially for a specific or special occasion), don’t go the cheap route. By that, I mean the type of gifts that are mass produced for a very cheap price, such as a drink koozie or a flimsy tote bag.

There’s no knocking those gifts, but if you’re trying to impress your customers or land a deal with a potential client - and you’re using this gift as part of building those relationships - you’ll want to show you went the extra mile.

This doesn’t mean you have to break your budget or spend a huge amount of money. Just take extra care with the quality of the gift you are giving. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes: would you enjoy receiving that gift? Even if it’s a box of really good chocolate assortments from a local candy store or a gift card to a popular coffee shop, that can be better as it’s more thoughtful.

4. Avoid bribery.

It may seem like incentivizing a customer with a gift is a good idea, but it actually isn’t. People can see right through bribery gifts and it can turn them off immediately.

If you have already prepared a welcome package for customers, that’s okay, but try to avoid it when you are trying to acquire more customers – especially when you are in the middle of negotiations of any kind.

If you are, however, a retail shop owner and are running a promotion to give a gift when a customer spends a certain amount of money, that’s okay because it’s clearly a shopping reward. If you do that, it’s probably smart to limit how often throughout the year you offer that promotion.

As a small business owner, it probably isn’t even within your budget to do it and that’s okay! You aren’t missing out on business if you can’t offer promotional gifts as some major corporations do.

5. Be mindful of holidays.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but unless you explicitly know that a customer celebrates a holiday like Christmas, it’s best to avoid specific holiday gift giving. Customers might not celebrate the holiday and it conflicts with their beliefs.

For example, if you give a Christmas gift to someone who celebrates Hanukkah, that will come across as insensitive and may turn your customer away.

If you are in the mood to give a holiday season gift, don’t make it about a specific holiday like Christmas. Deliver it with the message about warm wishes for the holiday season. Make the gift’s wrapping winter-themed, and maybe about the new year.

6. Don’t wait for the holidays.

The holidays are obviously a common time to send gifts, but that also makes it not such a good time for your gift to stand out. People can be getting a lot of gifts, and not give much thought to them. It also seems like standard procedure to send a holiday gift, so if you want to stand out, you should think about the rest of the year for customer appreciation.

It could be a customer’s birthday, or it could just be a milestone of business they hit with you. The more you can plan it around holidays, the better it will work out for you as the customer will feel more surprised and appreciated.

There are so many opportunities and occasions that you will feel it’s very fitting to give a customer a gift, and you should go for it! Just make sure you follow these guidelines, and you’ll be golden.

Gifts for Customers: The Best Ideas for Small Businesses

Now that we covered the etiquette behind giving gifts to customers, let’s take a closer look at a few ideas you can use right now. These ideas represent a wide range of budgets and are designed to be used by any type of business, so if you see an idea you like, go for it!

Gift cards to local businesses

This one is a great idea if you’re trying to build more goodwill in your area, or establish yourself as a leader within your community. Plus, with recent COVID-19 changes, showing your support for local businesses can go a long way toward helping your fellow entrepreneurs.

Grab an assortment of gift cards to local restaurants, florists, coffee shops, or anywhere else that you think is worth highlighting to your customers. You can grab several gift cards in small amounts (think $10 or even $5), or you can splash out on a couple of gift cards with larger amounts for your best customers.

Food platters

It’s always a fun idea to give food platters to your best customers, especially if you know what their tastes are. For example, if you work regularly with a vendor who happens to be a self-professed “cheese guy,” send along a nice platter of Vermont cheese.

Does one of your best customers have a sweet tooth? A cookie or dessert platter is always an excellent idea.

Even vegans can get in on the fun, thanks to food delivery businesses like Edible Arrangements.

Just make sure the food platters are delivered to them when you know they’ll be home - you don’t want the food to accidentally go bad!

A donation in their name

This is a great idea when you don’t want to be bothered with shopping or ordering gifts, but you still want to do something nice for an important customer or vendor.

One word of warning: Make sure the nonprofit organization you’re donating to aligns with their personal beliefs. For example, if your customer is a big animal lover, a donation to the ASPCA would be a great idea.

Try to avoid any donations to political or religious organizations, as this could accidentally put you in hot water with a customer or vendor who doesn’t want it in their name.

A succulent plant

Have you noticed a lot more succulents making their way into stores like Target or Walmart?

That’s because succulents have become a huge hit these past few years, thanks to their low-maintenance ways and ability to blend into any office. Plus, succulents don’t have to be watered often, making them a great gift for even the busiest customers.

I recommend giving an air plant to your customers. They’re super-affordable, easy to ship, and only need to be water once every couple of weeks. Bonus points if you gift a little succulent container with your business’s logo on it.

Gifts for Customers Build Great Word of Mouth!

Remember in the beginning of this article, when I mentioned you should give gifts to customers if you want to build great word of mouth with your customers?

It’s one of the most powerful word of mouth marketing techniques - but it’s not the only one out there. And if you’re interested in learning more about word of mouth marketing and how you can master it, download this FREE guide on word of mouth marketing for small business owners!

Free Guide Download

Get our FREE guide on How to Master Word-of-Mouth Marketing here!

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Ready to Start Celebrating Your Customers?

Whether you’re looking for ideas for the holidays or want to show your appreciation on your business’s anniversary, giving gifts to customers is a great, low-cost way to make a splash. If done right, it can give a little proof to customers why they should stay with your business, as opposed to your competitors.

Happy giving!

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This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer

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