There are some scenarios where the gift-selection process is ridiculously easy (i.e., the giftee actually tells you what they want), and some where it’s just a crapshoot (i.e., shopping for a complete stranger), but in most cases you’re buying for people you know at least a little bit, and they probably haven’t told you what they want.
The simplest way to shop for them is the scavenger hunt technique, where you have a brief scouting report on one or two of their interests (cars, sports, medieval bathroom fixtures) and then proceed to search for gifts in each of those categories. Assuming you have decent taste, and that your intel is accurate and not based on expertly feigned enthusiasm for a hideous bunny sweater ten years ago, then there’s a good chance your choices will be pretty good.
But there’s also a strong probability that you’ll start feeling like you’ve been buying the same gifts over and over again every year, and that perhaps the recipients already have enough alternate-history science fiction or compilations of Edgar Allen Poe’s little-known “sad kitten” sketches to last a lifetime. Feh.
I believe that the best gifts are those that are based not on interests, but on personality. Sure, anyone can get a singing robot Elvis head for the Elvis fan in their life, but why not buy them something that’s as impish or thoughtful or creative as they are?
My approach is to open my mind and browse through bookstores and novelty gift sites like ThinkGeek and Archie McPhee (everyone I know is peculiar) looking for items that make me say “Oh, _____ would love this.” If it happens to coincide with their interests, great. But mostly I’m looking for something that evokes and reflects some facet of who they are, like my dad’s puckish sense of humor, or my sister’s hipster snarkiness.
And when I know I’ve chosen well, there’s a sense of connection and satisfaction that I just don’t get with the scavenger-hunt gifts. That connection is what makes gift-giving so rewarding for me – it’s a way of telling them that I know who they are, and that I care.
On the other hand, the singing robot Elvis head is pretty awesome.
What about you? How do you choose the perfect gift?