(LifeWire) -- When Gerette Braunsdorf got an invitation to an acquaintance's housewarming party, she was shocked to see the host had registered for gifts at a popular but pricey home retailer.
"I thought it was a bit tacky," says Braunsdorf, 38, a graphic designer in Shaker Heights, Ohio. "These occasions should be about celebrating with the people who are nearest and dearest to you, not a gimme."
Once, registering for gifts was the exclusive privilege of brides -- but not any more. Today, people register for birthdays, holidays, expensive vacations or no reason at all. And as registry options proliferate, some are put off by what they see as blatant requests for handouts.
"I think that registries should be reserved for weddings and baby showers, maybe for a big anniversary," says etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Florida. However, she adds, "people who get to that stage of life usually have everything they want." Watch gifts in a recession »
No more unwanted gifts
Don't tell that to Maria Nardi, who sees wish lists as a way to put an end to unwanted gifts. Nardi, 39, created an any-occasion gift registry for herself at exclusive crystal designer Waterford a few years ago -- and wasn't shy about telling close friends and family about it.
"Honestly, receiving gifts had become a bit of a nuisance, because I have a specific style and the presents I got didn't always match it," says Nardi, director of marketing and events for a San Francisco information technology company.
"Is there some law prohibiting single people from having nice crystal?" she adds. "I entertain probably more than my married friends do."
Nardi, who over the past four years has amassed nearly $1,500 worth of crystal in her preferred pattern, is now considering registering for china. And she'll most likely get it. Her family and friends "were thrilled" about the registry idea, she says. "It made it so much easier for them to shop for me."
It's good business
Recognizing a good thing, retailers have embraced the nontraditional registry trend. A recent report by Mintel, a leading market research company, estimates gift registries will rake in $5 billion to $5.5 billion for retailers in 2008.
"Registries provide a retailer with robust data on customer preferences, fuel their marketing ability and extend their reach to a new audience via gift buyers," says Leigh Duncan-Durst, founder of LivePath, a customer experience consultancy. "Plus, it saves money by reducing the chances that gifts will be returned."
It's not just retailers. Sites such as GetInHisHead.com exist so people like Brandt Halbach, 36, can post wish lists in the hopes that their significant others get the hint. Halbach, an administrator for a medical group in Athens, Georgia, posted a list of grilling and golf gear so his wife would know what to buy for his birthday or other holidays, and she has already surprised him with a new golf putter from his list for no occasion at all.
"My wife is not a golfer, so without this service she wouldn't have understood the specific club to get without asking me directly," Halbach says. "And because I registered for a wide variety of things, the gift was still a surprise."
Gifts from anybody, anywhere
Traditional types who frown on housewarming registries will be horrified by what might be the future of gift soliciting: posting wish lists in online communities in the hope that someone, anyone, will send the UPS man your way.
Emmy Friedrichs, a 31-year-old dental consultant in Cincinnati, includes two registries in her profile on Fark.com, a news aggregate Web site, where she uses an online persona. "You can arrange it so that the people who buy you a gift don't see your real name or address," says Friedrichs, who estimates that she has received eight to 10 anonymous gifts from people in the Fark community, including an Ella Fitzgerald CD compilation that cost close to $100.
Why does she think someone would spend so much on her without even knowing her real name? "I think it's usually because somebody likes something I've said in a discussion forum," she says. "But a lot of girls put a beautiful picture up there and play on the socially awkward guys that sometimes populate these forums."
Etiquette expert Whitmore is skeptical but withholds judgment. "If posting a wish list is somebody's way of expressing their personality, I guess that's not so bad," she says. "We never could have imagined this situation 10 years ago."
Think before you list
Whitmore offers these tips for creating a registry:
• Put together a good-sized registry containing items in a range of prices. Your family and friends won't feel pressured into spending a certain amount, and you'll still be somewhat surprised.
• Don't print registry information on the invitation if your registry is tied to a specific event. "It's more appropriate for the person who is issuing the invitation to mention the registry to guests when they RSVP," she says.
• Before you create an online gift registry, investigate whether it will be private. Some require shoppers to have a password; others are available for anybody to see. If your registry is public, think twice about registering for personal items.
LifeWire provides original and syndicated content to Web publishers. Celeste Perron is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who reports on health, green living and lifestyle topics.
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