The Death Of The Gift Box

Can we all just admit that gift bags suck?

Something is missing from the holidays this year. Over the weekend, I thought I’d finished my shopping. But after taking inventory of what needed wrapping before Christmas, a question hung over me:

Where the @&%# are the gift boxes?

I remember a time, not so long ago, when everything you’d buy came with a box. Sweater from Macy’s? Here’s a box. A pack of socks and some underwear from JC Penny? Take a box for those. Part of the fun of Christmas morning is seeing those piles stacked high, boxes in all shapes and sizes wrapped with varying degrees of skill.

Those days, it seems, are gone. Who wants a sea of gift bags surrounding their tree? Or to have to spend more money for those bags, with their sparkles and glitter and cartoon Santas?

As I made my shopping rounds in the past few weeks, I was surprised by how often my request for a gift box was denied (and by how often I had to ask for one in the first place). To avoid Christmas spoilers, I’ll have to refrain from naming names. But at one Walnut Street shop, I was handed a gift in a cloth bag with the store’s logo on it. Do you have any boxes, I asked? “No,” the cheery clerk said. “But she’ll love the bag!”

Not the point, lady. I can’t wrap a damn bag with my reindeer paper. And your logo sort of gives it away.

At another high-end store, I bought something rather large and unruly—again, not a present I can wrap on its own. The check-out guy shook his head when I asked for a gift box. The same thing happened to my mother, when she made a trip to Macy’s. The cashier said they were recovering from the Black Friday rush and still out of boxes—two weeks later. At Boscov’s, if you wanted some cheap cardboard, you needed to go to the customer service counter—which meant standing in another line. My girlfriend’s mother was elated when a friendly cashier at The Finish Line sporting goods store not only had a box for her, but gave her a few extras. (Dear Manager at The Finish Line: Give that employee a raise.)

Yet in the midst of this crippling box shortage, a curious thing happened when our crack research staff called the shops at King of Prussia to investigate. Almost every single store claims to hand out boxes. Macy’s said, vaguely, that box distribution “depends on what you buy.” Lord & Taylor said the same, but added that they throw in tissue paper. Sears, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, J. Crew, Gap, Ann Taylor, and on and on—everyone claims to be pro-box. So why would I have needed to buy about 57 gift bags this year if The Finish Line wasn’t so generous?

What some store managers tell Philadelphia magazine is likely different than what we find when we’re up to our eyeballs in sweaters and scarves at the checkout counter. That Black Friday sob story doesn’t fly, either—no reason to not have enough packaging to cover their inventory, especially headed into the holiday shopping season. Maybe it’s a cost-cutting thing, or perhaps my family  and I just had a run of bad luck this year. But it’s making me think twice about braving the lines and the parking lots of brick-and-mortar shops at all anymore. At least when I order from Amazon, my stuff comes in a friggin’ box.


Editor’s note #1: Dick’s Sporting Goods also is generous with the gift boxes. Perhaps these sports stores are onto something here.

Editor’s note #2: Some stores do still offer gift boxes and, better yet, free gift wrapping. Find ’em all here, and add them to your shopping list next year.