If you are like me, you view gift giving as a sport. You work hard to find THE perfect gift for each person in your life. You agonize and vacillate between items. Then comes the moment of truth. Game time. The presentation of the gift…
the giftee receives your masterpiece of perfection with mild enthusiasm and a half-hearted “thanks…” What happened? Where did you go wrong?
The science of gift giving
We’ve all been there. Despite our best intentions, we end up purchasing gifts that aren’t what recipients want or need.
According to research, there is a methodology to being a good gift giver. Researchers who actually study consumer psychology, say being a good gift giver actually begins with a bit of introspection. They suggest that you begin your quest for the perfect gift by keeping the following fundamental concepts in mind:
1. Don’t go for “instant gratification”
Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business conducted a study recently and concluded that one major reason we give bad gifts is because of our desire to delight the recipient in the short term, rather than considering long-term satisfaction.
“When givers are choosing [what to buy], they’re often thinking about putting a big smile on the recipient’s face the moment they get the gift,” said Jeff Galak, associate professor and co-author of the study. “[Buyers] think, ‘I want to make you happy right when you open the gift.'”
Galak went on to say that gifts that inspire momentary happiness:
“are not necessarily what the recipient wants or needs. What people generally want, broadly, are gifts they will enjoy and use for a good duration of time.”
2. Ask them what they want and give it to them–seriously
According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, the gifts that are the most likely to be appreciated are the ones that come directly from the recipient’s list. The study discusses the results of an experiment in which a group of giftees were asked to list and then rate a series of gifts they’d received in the past. The recipients rated those gifts that came directly from their list– or–were what they had explicitly requested– as being more thoughtful and appreciated than un-asked-for items.
However, in most cases, asking the person outright what they want feels like the worst possible move. We have this social norm that frowns on blatantly asking. Asking seems to insinuate a level of thoughtlessness or lack of care but actually, the opposite is true. When people tell you what they want, everybody wins.
3. Check your ego
Now here is where I really struggle. Gift-giving is supposed to be this incredibly selfless act that is all about the recipient… but let’s be honest: giving the perfect gift is the ultimate ego stroke!
Nicole Coleman, an assistant professor at Pitt’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business explains why:
“Givers want to choose gifts that reflect their relationship with the recipient, some specific knowledge that the giver has about the recipient, or other highly individual information about the recipient.”
Another ego element luring us away from the best gift options is the anxiety we feel concerning how our gift compares with others. We want our gifts to be as good or better than others the recipient receives. We may want to outdo our sibling, co-workers or the other “Secret Santas” at the party.
The problem with this kind of thinking isn’t just that you’ll end up getting a bad gift, but that you’ll end up overspending and wasting money trying to out do others–and retailers are counting on this.
“Retailers are sensitive to the buyer’s [anxiety] that how much they spend really matters,” said Galak.
Retailers purposely feed into that anxiety and competitive edge.
4. When in doubt, give a gift card.
Find out where your recipient likes to shop and give a gift card to his or her favorite store or website. It’s equivalent to giving cash–and EVERYONE loves cash! OR even better, give them a gift card from one of the major credit card companies. It may feel wildly impersonal and a bit like cheating, but these types of gift cards allow your special giftee to buy from virtually any retailer and get exactly what they want.
…and that way, everyone wins!