There’s a Good Reason Not to Give Your Loved Ones Special Gifts This Year

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Around the holidays, the thoughtful gift giver understandably wants to find something unique for each person on his or her list. Consumer researchers say you probably shouldn’t bother.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, a phenomenon dubbed as “over-individuation” can cause gift givers to select less-than-ideal presents for the people on their holiday lists.

Basically, the idea is that when shoppers have to buy gifts for multiple people, they tend to want to buy a different (or “individuated”) thing for each person—even when some of the individuals on the list would prefer exactly the same thing. For instance, three people on your list might all be overjoyed to receive the same sweater, or perhaps the same Legos set or a $25 gift card for the same retailer. But in this scenario, in which several recipients would like the same present, shoppers generally don’t want to play ball. And the likely reason they don’t is that doing so, ironically, doesn’t seem all that thoughtful from the perspective of the giver.

In a handful of experiments for the study, researchers asked shoppers to choose from a selection of gifts to buy. Among the options, one of the gifts was pre-tested to be the clear favorite among the recipients. But in many instances, shoppers didn’t choose this option.

In some cases, shoppers had to choose only one gift for one person. This made life simple for the buyers: They almost always picked the obviously preferred present. But in experiments when shoppers had to buy for multiple people, they often decided against getting the same gift for everybody, even though doing so would have made the recipients happiest. Instead, the givers tended to buy a different thing for each person on the list. They did so even with the knowledge that the recipients would not be comparing gifts with each other.

By choosing a unique gift for each recipient, givers would somehow feel like they were being more thoughtful, even though they weren’t choosing the gifts that all of the recipients truly wanted most. It’s a situation in which gift giving can be revealed to be more about making the giver, rather than the recipient, feel good.

“Our research indicates that shoppers selecting gifts for more than one person at a time may focus on getting different gifts for each recipient rather than on simply getting what each would like best,” write the study’s authors, Mary Steffel of the University of Cincinnati and Robyn A. LeBoeuf of the University of Florida.

Their advice is to forget about buying unique gifts for everyone, and to instead focus on what the people are on your list truly want most: “To help consumers from losing sight of what gifts people would most appreciate, we encourage gift givers to think about the type of gifts the recipient would most likely pick for themselves.”

So if four or five people on your list want the same exact thing, so be it. Snatch up however many of the items are necessary to make them all happy.

4 comments
pearlofagirl100
pearlofagirl100

Yeah, I just learned my lesson the hard way. I always buy my kids a Christmas ornament for the tree every year. One year Hallmark came out with a Cheers ornament for the Christmas tree. When I was a kid I always you use to watch this sitcom with him. I bought it and gave it to him as a gift. Cost me 18 bucks (and I didn't have a lot of money at the time to be spending). But really wanted to get it for him as it was one of his favorite shows and I loved the time we spent together. Anyway a year later my dad was having a garage sale and my step mom had it in the sale to get rid of. I asked my dad why he was getting rid of it? He said his wife wouldn't let him hang it on the tree. Can't tell you how upset I was. From now on both of them only get a gift card. I am done buying thoughtful gifts. Either my dad should have grown a pair and said "we are hanging it on the tree" or he should have placed it in his man cave..... I took the ornament back because I just couldn't see it being sold for a buck. Now I don't know if I can hang it on my tree without feeling bad about it.

AndreasCY
AndreasCY

The problem is we spend too much time on gift giving and not the real reason for the season.

BlueStockings24
BlueStockings24

I look for the most unique gift I can find and then buy one for everyone … for example, a few years ago I found gloves you can use on cellphones and I-Pads … big, big hit and not one person seemed disappointed to get the same gift.  How many times have you been to present opening and someone always says … Oh I want one!  Problem solved for an old lady. 

victoria123
victoria123

If I find a great gift I will pick it up for several people. Last year I ordered something from crate and barrel that was half off when it came in the mail it was so beautiful I went to the store and picked up two more. I wouldn't necessarily give the same gift to many people that received their gifts at the same time though.