The Art of Gifting

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Choosing a gift isn’t usually easy. Here’s what to keep in mind when buying gifts this holiday season

Give an experience

If you want the recipient of a gift to feel closer to you, forget the swanky new phone and get them an experience instead. In 2016, Cindy Chan, a consumer relationships expert and an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, published a study that shows that it’s better to give an experience than a material gift; experiential gifts foster stronger relationships than material gifts. When explaining the findings, Chan said, “The reason experiential gifts are more socially connecting is that they tend to be more emotionally evocative. An experiential gift elicits a strong emotional response when a recipient consumes it — like the fear and awe of a safari adventure, the excitement of a rock concert or the calmness of a spa – and is more intensely emotional than a material possession.”

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The whole point of gift-giving is to make the recipient feel special, and if you want them to feel extra special, get yourself one as well. “When you receive a gift that someone has also bought for themselves, you feel more like them. That leads you to like your gift more,” said Evan Polman, a marketing professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, when presenting the findings of a study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. “If you are faced with buying a gift for somebody, and you’re uncertain if they’re going to like it, maybe, you instead find something you would like for yourself…Then buy the recipient the same thing, and communicate the companionizing. It makes the gift more special, like the giver is trying to communicate something: ‘I like this, and I like you. So maybe you’ll like what I like.’”

Make it versatile

You’ve been overthinking it so much, studying your partner to get the gift that will exactly match their preference. But, according to researchers from the University of Cincinnati, this doesn’t necessarily work. “When it comes to choosing gifts for close others, like romantic partners, givers try especially hard to be thoughtful and demonstrate their knowledge of their partner. Ironically, these attempts to be thoughtful can backfire: We find that givers tend to choose more specific, less versatile gift cards when shopping for romantic partners than friends, but that recipients prefer more versatile gift cards regardless of how close they are to the giver,” said Mary Steffel, assistant professor of marketing and one of the researchers.

Focus on the long-term

When buying a gift, don’t focus on how pleased the recipient will be when they open it. Instead, focus on how well the gift will stand the test of time (even if the recipient will not shout with glee when opening it). Focusing too much on how pleased the recipient will be is one of the mistakes people make, according to research led by Jeff Galak of Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business.

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