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Last Updated: Friday, 23 December 2005, 06:29 GMT
The great Christmas giveaway
By Jeremy Scott-Joynt
BBC News business reporter

Socks again. How lovely.

eBay website
eBay is keen to be the place to come for selling unwanted gifts

Plenty of people can sympathise with such a sentiment.

This is the time of year to plaster the insincere smile on the face, stuff the grateful handshake with false bonhomie, and insist that the woefully misconceived gift you've just unwrapped is just what you've always wanted.

If it really is socks - or other forms of knitwear - then you're probably stuck with the undesirable item in question.

If, on the other hand, you're a games-loather who's somehow ended up with an Xbox 360 - the Holy Grail in this year's technology stakes - or a plastic plate user who's got a 30-piece dinner set, then there are other options.

In that case, Christmas could turn into a nice little earner after all.

Flog it

The first port of call in this day and age is the obvious one: sell it on the internet.

And most people in this kind of situation are likely to turn to eBay, the grand-daddy of online auction sites.

In years gone by, the company - on whose website can be found millions of sales a day - actually set up a Christmas Zone especially to cater for the gift resale market.

"The new zone has been developed on the premise that one man's rubbish is another man's gold," the site proudly declared in 1999.

These days, eBay is a little more circumspect, and foregoes a dedicated area - leaving users to post their bargains as they would any other day.

Count the cost

Not that such a move has stopped it eyeing up the potential market.

In a survey conducted on eBay's behalf by ICM, two thirds of adults said they would consider selling on unwanted presents.

Charity shop
Many Britons show an altruistic streak with their cast-off gifts

Almost a quarter of fussy Londoners said they received undesirable items at Christmas, while fewer than one in ten people in Yorkshire would admit to such ingratitude.

In a similar vein, Brunel University academic Charles Dennis has been checking on the cost of Christmas.

Dr Dennis says about 15.5bn is spent on presents each year - about 330 per person - and believes that almost one in seven presents, or 13.5%, are ditched.

That's 2bn - or 40 for every adult in the UK.

About the same proportion again simply get stuck in the back of a cupboard.

Gifts that keep on giving

But the surprise in Dr Dennis's figures is that few Britons seem to be on the hunt for a quick buck from Christmas.

Of the unwanted gifts that stay out of the broom cupboard, about a third are simply thrown away.

More than half, however, go to the country's thousands of charity shops - making a quick trawl through Oxfam or the Cancer Research Trust a solid alternative to the High Street sales.

About one in 10, according to Dr Dennis, are recycled into gifts for other unsuspecting recipients. Or, if you're feeling particularly bitter, kept for returning to the original donor the following year.

Sock-making factory
Unwanted presents in the making?

A rather more efficient form of donation can be found in freecycling - a relatively new habit, but one which could pay dividends and prove as addictive for its adherents as eBay frequently turns out to be.

You simply log the details of what you want to get rid of on a website, and then give it to anyone who offers to come and take it off your hands.

Freecycling websites tend to be closed communities. You have to have made an offer before you can claim one, and users look rather sourly on anyone simply trying to hoover up other people's goodwill.

But at least you'll know your stuff is going to a good home.

One careful owner

There's one unwanted present, though, which is going to prove impossible to get rid of.

This year has seen the renaissance of the charity "goodwill gift" - where the giver donates something, frequently the cost of some livestock, typically a goat - on the recipient's behalf.

Of course, it's not as if it's a huge problem. After all, you're not the one looking after it in the back garden.

But if you are feeling aggrieved, or wonder whether the gift was for your benefit or the donor's, then there's always an alternative suggested by writer Andrew Brown.

Goats, he says, eat anything.

"So on Boxing Day, I plan to open a web site offering charity gifts for the rest of us," he declares.

"Ship your rubbish off to feed a goat! Save the environment, and, if you want, we'll send a card to the original giver of the gift you have recycled."

Recycling as revenge. How lovely.

A goat's not just for Christmas
13 Dec 04 |  Magazine
Goodbye to all tat?
19 Dec 03 |  Education

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