You'll find yourself trudging around floor after floor of the department store, notebook in hand, trying to find out what's available in what colour and whether they will go with items from a completely different department. Then, as the big day nears, finding out what's been bought or changing your list can be a nightmare too.
Which is why Pepita Diamand came up with the idea for Wrapit, an innovative online wedding-list service. Says Diamand, a Canadian: 'I discovered that wedding lists weren't doing what they should be doing. They often left guests disappointed, and they didn't manage couples correctly.' Moreover, nobody was using the internet to operate what is essentially a fulfilment application naturally suited to the web.
Five years on, the company's web-based store has more than 100 'departments' offering thousands of products, including more than 350 brands from 200 different suppliers. How does it work? Couples have a consultation, typically at Wrapit's smart central London showroom, where the consultant helps them assemble their list from items in-store and those in a web-based catalogue. The list is then made available to guests via the Wrapit website as a mini-catalogue; they can order their chosen gift with a few clicks.
The couple receive e-mail updates advising them every time an item is bought, and they can modify the list, deleting or adding items when they want to.
During the consultation, customers are questioned about their lifestyle, their tastes and even what kind of food they like. The accent is on making the process easy and fun: male partners can even chill out with a beer and a game of table football. 'It's all about being a friend to the couple, a cool friend they can go to for advice,' says Diamand. The consultation can also be conducted over the phone.
To deliver this service, Wrapit built a proprietary system that presents the catalogue, manages the fulfilment, and offers a variety of additional services of benefit to couples. For example, it can generate a tailor-made thank-you card to each guest. Wrapit gives its customers a clear timetable of when gifts will be delivered, and its own drivers deliver everything to ensure the best possible service.
Wrapit's staff are mostly smart, highly motivated young women who have an instant rapport with their target customers. Some are actresses between jobs, others are parents, but the company has devised a flexible rostering system to fit in with their lifestyles. The firm sets great store on recruiting people of the right calibre. 'If the right person comes along, then we'll find a job for them,' says Diamand.
Many of Wrapit's people are passionate about working there; one consultant left a banker's job at Goldman Sachs to join the company for a fraction of the salary. Managing director Peter Gelardi bakes a cake for each employee on their birthday.
Wrapit gathers lots of feedback from customers; it asks prospects who don't sign up for a wedding list why not; the Acid Test is a facility that allows clients to post comments - good and bad - on its website.
It offers them £10 to complete a questionnaire, and £50 for referring a new customer. The firms also has many ways of introducing business improvements.
A weekly 'Happy Hour' enables each department to meet IT to request system enhancements.
This year, Wrapit will manage the wedding lists of 2,000 couples. It has already expanded into franchises and has set itself the ambitious target of capturing some 6% of the market, worth around £24 million, by 2008. The market for wedding lists is growing as they achieve wider social acceptance; Wrapit's high-tech, customer-friendly formula looks set to win a growing slice of it, even if the firm can't count on getting much in the way of repeat business.