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The Chinese have a saying, “You eat with your eyes,” meaning that the appearance of a plate of food can be just as important as its taste. When designing a gift basket, this principle is just as important. Someone receiving a gift is unlikely to make a catalog of what it actually contains as they go through it, what matters most is how they feel as they first see it.

General Guidelines

The size of the container should be appropriate to the contents. Have you ever been served a tiny portion on an oversized plate? It sucks and so does receiving an XXL basket with only a few items, whatever they may be, rattling around the bottom. A smaller basket stacked to the rim, on the other hand, gives the appearance of abundance and generosity. If the gift basket is a hamper of only a few relatively expensive items, consider laying them flat in one layer with something like straw to keep them in place.

Color is very important psychologically. Choose and arrange items so that a variety of bright colors can be seen, and use principles such as complimentary colors or schemes when designing a basket. Once you have something that looks good, take a photograph so you can easily recreate it in future. The color of the basket and any wrapping should also be appropriate. You wouldn’t generally put edible items in a blue-green container. Red and yellow, on the other hand, stimulate the appetite – think of fast food restaurants’ logos.

Containers

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A little spray paint can make the difference between a ratty-looking, uninspired basket or metal bucket and something fun that can be reused for years, although it’s worthwhile testing whether the paint will crack or flake with handling. The basket itself can be lined with hessian cloth or given a jacket made out of some other kind of fabric (it’s possible to use glue instead of trying to sew a cover together). Fabric can make even a cardboard box (with its base reinforced with a sheet of plywood) seem expensive and elegant.

There are arguments both for and against covering a basket with cellophane or another material. Certainly, this makes it easier to offer it in a retail environment or transport it, but it can also distract from the impression the contents generates, and crinkly plastic will make anything seem cheap. If going this route, at least take some time with ribbons and other decorations to reduce this effect.

Little Tricks

Very often, the perceived value of a basket can be greatly elevated by simply including a few little items that won’t raise its cost appreciably. The key is to make sure that these are appropriate and complementary to the basket’s theme.

Decorations such as pine cones or seashells can be obtained free or very cheaply, and adding a small cutting board and knife to a gourmet cheese set will be seen as extremely thoughtful and practical, while not adding much more than a dollar to its price. Babies’ socks, as another example, can be bought cheaply by the hundred and used both for maternity-themed gifts and around Christmas time.

Holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Easter, or even Secretaries’ day, offer other obvious opportunities. In fact, small cardboard cut-outs, possibly enhanced with a little glitter, can make a basket seem much more cheerful and friendly with hearts, flowers, etc. Fresh flowers and leaves have obvious drawbacks, but if the present is not expected to be stored for long, they can help make the basket seem much fuller and richer.

Labels

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In some cases, a customer will prefer to write his own card, but it will never hurt to have a range of options printed out on some heavy stock. “Thanks for being a loyal customer” and similar messages are likely to be popular, as are cards that simply reinforce a given basket’s theme, like “For the coffee lover”. A little humor or creativity in this regard will be welcome, but attempts to get too cute will generally fall flat.