Gift registries aren’t just for brides and babies anymore. Increasingly, retailer and specialty websites are offering them for any occasion, including holidays. Sometimes called a gift list or a wish list, they give you an easy way to let your nearest and dearest in on exactly what you want, right down to the model number. Think of them as high-tech versions of a letter to Santa.

Sometimes, one retail site is enough. Planning to paddle through Patagonia? Try REI’s gift registry. Is your idea of a stocking stuffer a 75-inch 4K Ultra HD TV? Broadcast your wishes on the Best Buy Wish List. Willing to settle for 5 quarts of motor oil or a two-pack of Super Poligrip? Then sign up on Walmart Lists.

For those whose interests are more varied, Amazon will host the wish list you create and let you merrily add to them from any website by using its Amazon Assistant app. Universal gift registries such as CheckedTwice, Giftster, and MyRegistry.com let you gather your goodies from different vendors in one virtual place. Some even have apps that let you add items while you’re browsing in actual stores. All you have to do is let people know where you’re registered. The sites will show them (though not necessarily you) what’s already been purchased.

A caveat: Read the fine print. The sites are generally free, but you’ll want to know what they’ll do with your email address and any other personal information you may be asked to provide—and it varies. The privacy policy at MyRegistry.com, for instance, says the site may use your information to “inform you about our products and services and those of our promotional partners.” The policy at CheckedTwice says the site has no plans to sell users’ email to third parties but then adds this oddity: “If someone offers us a ton of money, we will gleefully sell your information to outside parties.” If it does, it goes on to say, it promises to update its privacy policy and not to “part with your information in any really scummy way.”

As for other downsides, a wish list can take the surprise and creativity out of giving and receiving. But then again, do you really want to give dad another new tie when he’s really craving a camouflage T-shirt and cargo pants?


Visit Consumer Reports' 2016 Holiday Gift Guide for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider tips on shopping, and much more. And be sure to check our Daily Gift Guide.
 

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the December 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.