Skip to main content

Let's Talk Business: Julian Givi Shares Gift-Giving Insights

Julian Givi, assistant professor of marketing, shares his research on what kind of gifts you should give to the special people in your life.

How can people do a good job when gift-giving? This is a complex question with even more complex answers. I have spent the last decade studying this very question.

While I have uncovered many “truths” about giving, this post is going to focus on the very first one I unveiled: the benefits of sentimental gifts.

Take a moment to recall this most recent winter holiday season and all the gifts you gave. Chances are, most of them were superficial in nature: perhaps you gave an athletic jersey, a gift card, or a nice electronic item.

If this is the case, you are not alone. These superficial gifts are quite popular with gift-givers. But should they be as popular as they are?

This was what I (and my colleague, Jeff Galak from Carnegie Mellon University) sought to answer. We compared how gift-givers and gift-recipients think about superficial gifts and their natural counterpart – sentimental gifts. Sentimental gifts are valued by recipients because of their associations with special people, times and/or memories. Think scrapbooks, heirlooms and items with deeper meanings.

In our studies, we had gift-givers and gift-recipients choose between superficial gifts and sentimental gifts. What did we find? A complete mismatch. Why? Because givers were risk averse.

Givers were far more likely than recipients to choose the superficial gifts. They saw the superficial gifts as sure hits but saw the sentimental gifts as risky: they could be home runs, but they could also be strikeouts.

For recipients, there was no such uncertainty: they knew the sentimental gifts were home runs and that they would love and prize them in a way that they wouldn’t the superficial gifts.

Does this ring true to you? I bet that if you think back to the last time you received a sentimental gift, it does. These gifts are somewhat rare, but they are also the ones that move us the most. They make us feel warm, cared for and nostalgic in a unique and special way.

With all this in mind, the next time you are out shopping for a gift, I would encourage you to consider going with something sentimental. Chances are, it will be a home run!

And remember – Mother’s Day is just around the corner.

Julian Givi
Assistant Professor of Marketing

Read more about Dr. Givi's research below:

Digital gift cards are easy to use, hard to lose – but givers still avoid them (Chambers College News)

WVU research confirms wisdom of Santa’s wish lists, showing holiday shoppers often don’t buy what recipients want (WVU Today)

WVU gift-giving expert plays Cupid with Valentine’s Day present advice (WVU Today)

The 4 biggest gift-giving mistakes, according to a consumer psychologist (The Conversation)

There Are Three Rules to Giving the Perfect Gift (Bloomberg)

Unpacking the Psychology of Gift-Giving (New York Times)

"Let's Talk Business" is a series of guest blogs written by members of the Chambers College community. All views expressed in this post are the author's own.

Chambers College