Friday, June 13, 2014

5 Ways to Survive The Gift Shop

5 ideas to avoid aggravation in a gift shop

 It seems like everywhere you go, there is a gift shop.  Disney? Of course. We joke that it doesn't seem like a legal ride unless you exit through the gift shop.   Zoos?  Yep.   The middle of the Chesapeake Bay?  There too.  Sometimes you wonder if you've gone on a field trip or to the grocery store!

One thing to remember is that for many places, the gift shop is a source of much-needed revenue.  Sure, museums have generous donators, and often the docents are volunteers, but to keep the collections pristine -- and even the lights on --  it takes a lot of money.  Admissions, if the site charges them, often aren't nearly enough to pay the bills. Enter the gift shop.  We've seen some pretty pathetic ones that are barely more than chintzy tchotchkes and T-shirts, but I could spend hours exploring the books alone in the Smithsonian's stores.  I'm still not crazy about gift shops, but tend to be more benevolent when I know it's for a good cause.  Here's how we survive them without spending a fortune.

1.  Discuss ground rules you leave the house.  Even if you don't think there will be one, don't let on.  Always assume there will be.  I didn't expect there would be one out at Hopewell Furnace, and while it was small, it was still there.  It doesn't matter what your rules are; discussing them before leaves clear expectations.   Make sure they're either repeated back to you, or the listeners some how affirm that they've heard and understand. I don't guarantee that there won't be any voice piping up "Mommy, can I get...?" but you can then remind the owner of the voice "Remember we discussed...?"

If the rule is, "We're not going in the gift shop today," then remind them before you leave, and then when you get there, so there aren't any surprises when you leave.  

2.  Set expectations about what is allowed to be purchased.  My personal rule is it has to reflect where we have been.  I will allow a t-shirt (if you look through Luke's and Matthew's dressers, you can tell where we've visited), but draw the line at a random/generic knicknack that just has the place name slapped on it.  I can be convinced of a "science kit" that I know I've seen in Target if it is from the Franklin Institute, but if we've been to the aquarium, no stuffed giraffes.  Also,  keep your expectations to the child's age -- when we went to the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum, my teen chose a T-shirt but my younger boys wanted miner's helmets. 

3.  Remove the urgency.  Allow them to look all day, but purchase only after a specific, pre-determined time.  "Later" doesn't go over so well, because it's too vague.   Usually I check to see how much time visiting somewhere should take (check the "Plan a Visit" section of your destination's webpage) and then set an alarm on my phone for the middle of the suggested time.  An alarm instead of the statement "When we leave,"  helps avoid the "Can we be done now?" every few minutes.  I can always surreptitiously reset it if there is less to do or if we are taking extra long exploring, but the cue isn't the time on the clock, it's the chime.

If it's a multi-day excursion, like Disney, don't be tempted leave your souvenir shopping until the end of the week, because then you will have the responses "But what if we don't get back here?" and "But what if they run out?"  If your kids are bigger, they might be understanding of how long it is to the end, but pretty much if they're under 10, saying "You can shop on Friday," when it's still Sunday afternoon guarantees a lot of "Is it Friday YET?"  We have found "On our last day in <a particular park> is when we'll shop," is a good rule.  There are some parks we will visit twice, so there is some delayed purchasing, but some that we will only make it to once. 

3.  Set quantity limits.  I generally do not like setting hard price limits in advance because I never know exactly what things will cost.  I've had tears over a $10 budget and an $10.95 book. (Yes, I paid the extra...maybe it was a bad precedent, but it was a book!) Usually I will say you can choose ONE item, and then when I've had a chance to see the price tags, will approve/deny based on the cost of items, pulling out my "not more than..." reserve.  Mine know I usually will not allow them to spend more than $15 on average, but there's always the one who wants something inexpensive that frees up a few dollars for the other child and it balances out in the end.

There's also the option of them paying the difference.  While our kids don't get an "allowance" (my philosophy is "You live here, you help out here."), sometimes there are one-off chores they can earn a dollar or two, or they have gift money that they can contribute if they want something that is significantly more than I'm willing to spend.

4.  Encourage a specific collection.  When we go places, Neal always keeps an eye out for tree ornaments for me.  I like decorating the tree each December and seeing the places we've been, or telling the kids stories about them.  Sometimes it's an item that has the place name on it, but sometimes it's just a seemingly random ornament that I know is from special place.  Or, an item that isn't even an ornament -- a reproduction teacup in Martha Washington's Mount Vernon china pattern that I've put a ribbon through the handle to hang.

5. Tell the unimpressed he doesn't HAVE to get something if he doesn't find anything exciting.
  This helps avoid the "getting something because I'm here, but I don't really want it," junk.  We've been to some gift shops that were pretty unimpressive, or were to a place that wasn't exciting in the end.  Coming home empty handed is OK, too.  Once Matthew was almost in tears - on a school field trip, all of his friends had bags, but there was nothing he wanted.  I told him that he didn't have to bring home more stuff -- the most important souvenir was his memories of the day.

Ben and Me G is for Gift Shop

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  1. These are great points! We talk about those kind of outings before hand as well to avoid problems in the middle of the stores. It helps a lot when expectations are set ahead of time!

  2. Great ideas! Thanks for sharing at the Thoughtful Spot Weekly Blog Hop!

  3. Oh man -- I detest museums that dump out in the gift shop. But you're right, it seems like everywhere you go, they're there tempting our kids. We follow many of the same rules -- especially the one about the purchase reflecting where we're been.

    Thanks for linking up with #abcblogging! I've featured your post for this week's favorites!


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