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Beware of birthday gift disasters from A to Z

My birthday is on the way. Hey, if you’re breathing, then yours is too. Maybe it’s time for a warning on potential gifts. Sure, it’s the thought that counts. I’m always touched when people actually remember my birthday. I’m truly grateful to be loved.

Having said that, here are the worst gifts I ever received, from A to Z. Honestly, people gave me this stuff.

Anything from Hot Topic. What am I, Goth Mom?

Bird claw. My brother hunts. He dried the claw, drilled a hole through the stump and made me a key ring. Eek! I about jumped out of my chair when I opened that thing.

Cupid socks. My birthday is in the fall. Bet someone scored a real deal on those sappy socks.

Dishwashing soap. Slick move, Ace.

Electric toothbrush. Is there a message here?

Frog kit. Why would I wanna grow my own frog?

Glitter art kit: Ever tried to vacuum up glitter?

Halloween decorations. Pretty sure those aren’t so useful for a birthday occurring outside of October.

Ice cream maker. Who’s gonna churn it?

Jumprope. I have enough bouncing parts without that sort of help.

Kite. What am I, 12? “Go fly a kite.” Um, OK.

Lava lamp. Is someone trying to give me 60’s flashbacks?

Musical duck. Wait. Last year’s singing bass wasn’t bad enough?

Nose-hair trimmers. Even Grandpa wouldn’t take ‘em.

Owl (plastic). What a hoot. (Sorry.) Who-o-oo knew?

Pink leggings (for a grown woman). Who do they think I am, Miss Piggy?

Quilted potholders. Get real.

Recipes. So who’s doing the cooking on my birthday?

Spider. OK, it was rubber, but it still creeped me out!

Thighmaster. Was this a not-so-subtle hint, or what?

Used stuff. I could list countless examples of pre-driven merchandise here. Do people really think we can’t tell the difference?

Vacuum cleaner. OK, it’s useful. But as a birthday gift, it sorta sucks.

Wicked widgets. An electric chocolate fountain, s’mores maker, pasta-puller, and fajita machine are space-takers and not my idea of fun.

eXtravagant regifting. Certain family members (who happen to be schoolteachers) tend to overfill gift bags with oddly assorted items that clearly came from their students. We’re talking apple ornaments, dollar-store bath items, hokey notepapers, cutesy socks, and more.

Yachting magazine. Each issue had pretty pictures, but I don’t think a schooner and sailing lessons were included in the gift. If so, those items clearly haven’t shipped yet.

Zilch. Yep, believe it or not, some people never remember. Not even a card. Oh, well. At least I don’t have to come up with clever ways to compliment scary, strange, inappropriate, or inane presents that may have missed the mark a bit. Maybe it’s OK they forgot. Gee, did I miss their birthdays too?

Again, it’s lovely to be remembered. But some poky presents merit making us a little merry, simply for their misfirings.

Adapted from public domain artwork

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6 ways NOT to hold a successful close-out sale

“Wasted time is no bargain! I want those two hours back!”

Who hasn’t felt that way after attending a crowded close-out sale, particularly if the advertised bargains proved to be no great deals at all?

Something is definitely amiss here.

A group of us went to a widely promoted store-closing liquidation sale. We parked three blocks away and stood a line that wrapped around the building, waiting for the doors to open. We dug through piles of merchandise, hunting for sweet savings.

Alas, the shopping was basically a bust!

Sure, we picked up a few items, but we didn’t find any deep discounts. We can easily find better deals by shopping online and in big-box discount stores for similar items.

Store managers, are you listening?

After an informal survey (OK, I chatted up the crowds in the check-out lines), I can offer these six steps to surefire failure for stores offering close-out sales.

1. Go for the big bang with the old bait-and-switch trick.

The store hosting this particular sale practiced this ploy. Pre-sale promotional flyers announced that multiple vendors were offering exceptional merchandise. Upon arrival, we discovered the same old stuff they always stocked.

2. Offer minimal discounts on originally overpriced items.

Smart shoppers know the difference. A quick internet price comparison reveals the truth. Marking prices up – just to mark them down for a sale – does not work with savvy browsers.

3. Try to market poor imitation merchandise as premium products.

Who has an eye for quality? Experienced buyers can tell vinyl from leather, plastic from plywood and veneers from real materials. Customers checking labels and touching products are not easily conned into shelling out for fakes, even on sale.

4. Trim cashier staff before the sale.

A store-closing sale is not the time to cut employee hours. Even if super discounts abound, customers will not stand for standing in line for hours to pick up a few deals.

5. Proclaim in print that all items must go, but mark certain fixtures as not for sale.

Clothing racks, shelving units, file cabinets and furniture are often included in liquidation sales. Retailers who do not intend to market everything but built-in fixtures should not trumpet “Everything must go” in sale ads.

6. Tag the event as a store-closing sale, even if you’re not really closing for a while.

Who let the cat out of the bag on this one? How many marketers host store-closing sales to draw in past and potential customers, only to remain open after all?

Honestly. Do retailers really believe the public is clueless?

Created by this user,
including public domain artwork

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Hey, Pandora! Are ad placements a crap shoot?

Perhaps plodding along on parched pavement makes me punchy. Even so, as I staggered to log a few sweltering running miles yesterday, I had to laugh.

As I jogged, I was enjoying an upbeat variety of sweet, uplifting songs, piped by Pandora through my headphones. I happened to be listening to their Christian Praise and Worship channel.

Then something struck my funny bone.

In came the ads, every few songs. First it was a car commercial, followed by a spot for a regional grocery store chain. But then the irony crept in, as I heard one for paid online slots and another for an area casino.

At this point, I gotta admit it. I am a Christian, and I have been to a casino. 

I went with a friend a few decades ago. I also know a few Christians who play paid slots online. But not many. On the other hand, plenty of Christians say they are ideologically opposed to gambling. Take it or leave it, they just don’t love it. 

Hey, advertisers. Demographics are everything.

Again, I’m not saying no Christians ever play slots or go to casinos. Just thinking this is sort of curious promotional positioning. Advertisers who want the biggest bang for their advertising bucks tend to evaluate audiences carefully. Some hire market research analysts to study possible targets for their campaigns.

Listening to gambling ads on Pandora’s Praise and Worship channel sort of feels like hearing All-You-Can-Eat Buffet ads on the Extreme Workout channel, ski vacation ads on the Summertime channel, or divorce attorney ads on the Love Songs channel. It just sort of stops you in your tracks for a moment.

Then the music resumes, and you’re up and running again.

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including public domain artwork

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I misplaced my mom, but it’s OK.

Actually, she sort of ran away. Nah, she pretty much power-walked at a full clip. And I totally started it – or so she said.

We were making our way through one of those giant big-box mega-discount department stores. We had walked up and down multiple aisles, picking up essentials and scratching them off the shopping list.

And then it happened. My Fitbit activity tracker went off, informing me that I had met that day’s step goal.

“Brrrip. Brrrip.” The thing vibrated on my wrist. And Mom noticed. I saw her glance at the similar device on her own wrist and frown.

There it was. The proverbial gauntlet fell to the ground. And Mom picked it up and ran with it, so to speak.

“Why don’t you take the cart and get in the checkout line, while I take a few spins ‘round the store?” my mom chirped. “My Fitbit didn’t go off yet.”

Did I mention my mom is in her mid-80’s?

I wheeled the shopping cart into one of the cashier lines. Several minutes ticked by, with no sign of Mom. So I did what any reasonable, mature adult daughter would do. I texted my teen at home.

“I think I’ve lost Grandma,” I typed. “She’s clockin’ some more miles in the grocery store to set off her Fitbit.”

I half-expected to hear a store-wide public service announcement:

“Speed-up on aisle four.”

Just then, my cell phone rang. It was my teen.

"Where's Grandma?"

Maybe I should mention that Mom did turn up a few minutes later, still frowning and claiming that her Fitbit must be broken.

Created by this user,
including public domain artwork

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