Psychology of Gifting

Posted on March 27, 2018 by Anthony Mortimer

In the UK, £24 billion will be spent on gifts over the festive period, totalling 760 million presents each year.

Christmas is seen as a time of giving to others, saying thank you and appreciating what you have. As a society we love giving presents, but each year over £700 million is wasted on unwanted presents, so how are we getting this so wrong?

Many scientists have studied the psychology of gift-giving, and it turns out that what you give can say a lot about you and your thoughts towards a person. Presents are considered to be a symbolic declaration about the giver, the receiver and the social bonds connecting them, allowing givers to express feelings and maintain relationships.

Wolfinbarger’s investigative research found four categories of symbols correlated with gifts;

  • Gifts that are symbolic of the self and of the giver
  • Gifts that are symbolic of the giver’s knowledge of the receiver
  • Gifts that are symbolic of the occasion
  • Gifts that are expressive and contain an array of significant meanings

A cycle of reciprocal gift exchanges establishes a relationship of transactions between individuals. French sociologist Marcel Mauss explained that gifts symbolise more than material attributes; to give something is to give a part of oneself, so no pressure!

Gifting Statistics

  • 45% buy Christmas gifts online
  • 10% of gifts are in the form of money or gift cards
  • The most popular gifts purchased are entertainment related (63%), clothing (57%) and food & drink (47%)
  • The most generous gift givers are 25-34 year old (averaging £665) and those living in London (averaging £767)
  • Over £700 million is wasted on unwanted Christmas gifts

The Evolution of Gifting

In Western societies Christmas has evolved to adopt a more material meaning and has become a significant occasion for acknowledging important social bonds.

83% of people agreed that Christmas is about spending time with family and friends, and as families no longer live in tightly-knit communities, Christmas may be the only time of year that considerable effort is put into nurturing and appreciating these relationships.

Therefore, the need to ‘do Christmas right’ seems to be given a high priority and prevails over any inconveniences or stresses and irritabilities that result from the festive season. With this, the need to pick the right gift that conveys the right message is essential.

The Psychology of the Perfect Gift

With £700 million wasted on unwanted Christmas gifts, there is an opportunity to improve your gifting skills and save money too.

In the eyes of psychologists, giving gifts is seen as a social, cultural and economic experience. Gifts allow people to express their feelings and build on relationships without the use of language.

Psychologists found that the perfect gift needed to follow three core guidelines: appropriateness, empathy and effort. The perfect gift should:

1. Illustrate the time and effort taken to find it: Belk & Rucker et al found that the suggestion of the giver’s sacrifice is represented by financial, effort and time sacrifices.
2. Be appropriate for the recipient and the occasion (e.g. Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Birthday).
3. Surprise the recipient and succeed in pleasing them by showing you know the recipient.

Hint: Listen to the Hints

Even though recipients may be surprised by a particular gift, they may have been involved in the decision and purchasing process. It’s not unusual for recipients to give hints about particular gifts they would like, so listen carefully for these subtle suggestions!

The Nation’s Favourite Gifts

If you’re still unsure of what will be the perfect present for your recipient, here are some common gifts the UK exchanges during the Christmas period.

Gift Cards

Gift cards are a great due to their versatility. It conveys the message that you want to give a gift and shows thought, but leaves the freedom of what to choose to the recipient. These can often be the most successful gift, ensuring you don’t give a gift that isn’t wanted or needed.

Food & Drink

Did anyone say Christmas hamper? The festive season is after all, a time to eat, drink and be merry. We are a nation of food lovers, and the quickest way to many peoples’ hearts is through their stomach. View our range of Christmas hampers to find the perfect gift for your colleague or customer.


Clothing is a popular gift, but again it’s important to know the recipient – what size they are and what colours and styles they like.


Each UK household owns around 7.5 smart devices in their home, so if there is someone who would describe themselves as ‘techy’, a new gadget may be the perfect gift for them. Interestingly, one of the most popular tech items is actually phone chargers.


Entertainment comes in many forms, most popular being DVDs, CDs and games. In order to get this right, you need to know your recipient well.

Tips for Gifting to Clients & Businesses

Giving Christmas gifts to your clients and colleagues is a great way of acknowledging their hard work over the year and saying thank you. It helps to strengthen your relationships and keep you in their minds over the Christmas period, meaning when January comes you can continue your relationship seamlessly.

Make it Useful

Remember that the gift will reflect your relationship and how well you know your clients and business partners, so if you’re not sure it’s best to stay cautious and get something more generic but useful than going over the top.

Food & Drink

An edible gift is appreciated by all, especially around the Christmas period. Business hampers are one of the most popular corporate gifts that are given each Christmas. With a large selection of goods, it ensures there’s something in there that everyone can enjoy.

Add a Personal Touch

Personalising the gift will help to make it memorable and strengthen relationships. This can be done by personalising the gift (e.g. monogramming) or writing a note to accompany the gift.

M&S Corporate Gifts

Strengthen your business relationships this Christmas. Browse our range of corporate products to help others spend this Christmas well.

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Whether you’re looking to incentivise purchases or reward employees, an M&S Gift Card or e-Gift Card helps you send the right message in the right way.

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