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Research by Professor Nathan Novemsky and Yale SOM doctoral student Ernest Baskin helps to explain why we give bad gifts.

Ironically, gift giving is one of the rare occasions when focusing on someone else backfires.

According to the study, “Why Feasibility Matters More to Gift Receivers than Givers: A Construal-Level Approach to Gift Giving," both gift givers and gift receivers focus on the receiver when thinking about a gift. However, givers and receivers evaluate gifts differently. The study reveals that gift givers prefer to give more desirable gifts, while receivers prefer to receive more practical gifts.

“Ironically, gift giving is one of the rare occasions when focusing on someone else backfires,” says Novemsky. “The tradeoffs that gift givers make between choosing a desirable gift and a practical gift are not in line with what gift receivers actually want.”

In a series of eight classroom studies and an additional field study involving friends giving gifts to each other, the authors measured the tradeoffs between desirability and practicality in gift giver and gift receiver preferences.

The authors use the example of a gift giver who knows the gift receiver loves Italian food and has to choose between a restaurant gift certificate for a well-rated restaurant that is an hour away versus a somewhat lower-quality restaurant that is five minutes away.

The research shows that the gift giver will choose the fancier restaurant, while the gift receiver would prefer to receive a gift certificate to the restaurant that is closer to their house."

Read the complete excerpt here, and find the article in the June 2014 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.


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Liza Babcock

Liza Babcock is the Creative and Marketing Director at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.