In theory, setting up a registry is simple. You decide on one or several stores, create a registry online or in person, select various items, and get the word out to your guests. In practice, things are a little more complicated -- but only a little!
With that said, here's the real deal on setting up your wedding registry and getting the word out without offending your guests. Remember that retailers can be an enormous help to both you and your guests. At the same time, you can't take everything they say at face value.
Q: Where should I register?
A: Chances are, if you're getting married in your own town, you already know where "everyone goes" to set up and shop from a registry. If not, and guests are flying in from far away, pick from some bride-tested standbys likely to be present almost anywhere. Macy's has a great reputation for registries, as does Williams-Sonoma, Bed Bath & Beyond and other retailers.
Before you choose your stores, be sure to stop by a wedding forum and get feedback from brides who have been there, done that. Store policies vary quite dramatically, ranging from the easy-does-it (who'll give you cash back for returns off the registry, no questions asked) to the extremely restrictive (who'll only let you exchange for another item *in that department*, requires a receipt for each item, and so on). You'll want to know about these policies and the store's overall reputation for bridal friendliness before you go in, or returns and exchanges could become a big hassle.
Q: I have a wide range of interests. How many stores should I register at?
A: Two to three stores is fairly typical. They don't have to be typical stores, though. If you're a wine drinker, and live in a state where it's legal to ship wine, set up a registry at one of the great online wine merchants.
Q: When should I register?
A: Although close family members may pressure you to start earlier, it's helpful to wait three to six months before the wedding. Not only are the vast majority of gifts bought within a day or so of the shower or ceremony itself, stores turn over merchandise so rapidly that any gifts you select earlier may be discontinued.
Q: What if I already have all the kitchen appliances and throw pillows I need?
A: Consider putting together a honeymoon registry instead, so guests can contribute toward a special meal or snorkeling trip or a night's lodging during your honeymoon.
Q: When I signed up at Store X, they gave me a bunch of attractive registry cards to enclose with my wedding invitations. Should I do it, or is that tacky?
A: Sorry, but the consensus is almost universal -- it's uncouth to include any mention of gifts in your invitations. You can, however, tuck those cards into shower invitations. Perhaps the best solution is to include a note in your invitations that reads, "Please see our wedding web site at www.xyz.com" and place your registry information there.
Q: How many gifts should I register for? I don't want to look demanding. A: Typically, you'll want to select two or three items per guest. That gives people room to choose instead of locking them into something they don't enjoy buying, or worse, forcing them to guess what else you might like, giving birth to the "second yogurt maker" type of gift.
If you have many guests, you can avoid creating a 16-page monstrosity for them to print out by breaking up your registry over several stores.
At the end of the day, "more is more." Many retailers offer discounts on those items you registered for but didn't receive. Many stores also retain your registry for at least 12 months after the wedding. You may find it's best to register for everything that you plan to buy, even if you don't expect to get it as a gift; you can then purchase your selections for 10% or 20% off after the ceremony. Many brides also find friends and family tapping registries for gift buying ideas for birthdays and other holidays!
Q: What price range should I stick with when selecting items?
A: Generally, you should register for things you really feel you want or need, without worrying too much about the price. Some guests enjoy picking up a number of items in the low price range, and sometimes guests will group together to purchase bigger-ticket items.
Q: I've set up my registry just fine, but now I'm addicted to checking it online. How can I stop?
A: Sorry, there's no known antidote for registry-checking addiction, though it's a widespread phenomenon. Counting to ten, taking deep breaths or distracting yourself with double-fudge ice cream might be worth a shot.