Help your customers be better gift givers

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Help your customers be better gift givers

The jingle bells are closer and closer. Every day, more people knock on your shop’s door to get gifts for their loved ones. They come with ideas for unique gifts, wish lists from their friends or tricky question „What should I chose?” Deep in their heart, they want to get the perfect gift that will be appreciated. Yet, they often miss it.

According to a recent consumer survey by National Retail Federation, one out of every three gift recipients (35.4%) returned at least one item during the 2013 holiday season.

People end up with unwanted stuff and a wonder what to do with the gift they have never asked for. For you, it means long lines at the returns counter and the fact that your great products are not welcomed at all.

The gift exchange puzzle

We are poor gift givers. We often pick up gifts that others would not choose to buy themselves. Why do we do that? Basically, it is like that because of our skewed perspective. We cling to our perspective asking ourselves „How would I feel in this situation?”

When picking out gifts, we imagine the happiness that we would experience when receiving the thing we’ve selected. But that isn’t the same happiness that the recipient will experience. Our desires are different from the desires of the receiving side.

I failed as a gift giver a dozen of times. I remember one time when I picked up this lovely book, „Summerhill” by A. S. Neill for my friend’s birthday. While moving between the bookstore shelves, I came across that title and thought “What a great book.” Then my mind went like this: Summerhill book, sociology, Marta, birthday coming soon. Yes, let’s pick it up. She would love it, I thought. Well, I confess, I would love it. My friend never read that book, but I would borrow it to reread over and over again.

Being in the giver role, I exhibited classical perspective bias. I clung to my set of preferences and imagined my joy from receiving a gift like that. Simply put, I loved the book I was picking up. But if I paid more attention to my friend’s preferences, I would have picked something much better for her.

When having a future gift giver at the counter, you are in a situation when you not only have to consider the needs of a customer, but also the gift receiver’s needs. This last person is, in fact, your final customer.

Help the giver to make a choice by striking up a conversation about the recipient. What he or she likes, talks about or spends money on. Try to get your customer to focus on the question: „How would your friend feel about the gift?” And watch out for the perspective bias we all jump into so easily.

The myth of a unique gift

Now let’s go back to the situation I had when picking up a gift for my friend. What if she prepared a “wish list” from which I could choose a good gift for her? Would I stick to the list or choose something on my own?

Research shows that givers have the urge to pick a unique gift instead of the registry gift assuming that a gift they have picked will be more appreciated. But actually, the opposite is true. Gift receivers appreciate the gifts they clearly asked for more than those they did not.

In one study, researchers Francesca Gino of Harvard and Frank Flynn of Stanford checked how givers and recipients react to registry gifts and unique gifts (link no longer available). In one experiment, half of the participant were given the giver role while the other half became the receivers. The receivers had twenty-four hours to create a wish list on They could choose ten products in the price range of twenty to thirty dollars. Then, the givers received the wish list and were told to either choose a gift from a list (registry gift) or pick a gift of their own idea (unique gift).

The givers believed that the unique gift will appear more thoughtful and personal. In fact, the opposite was true. The recipients liked the registry gifts more than the unique gifts. Same thing happened in experiments with friends giving and receiving wedding gifts and birthday gifts. The givers preferred buying unique gifts, but the recipients actually preferred the gifts from their wish lists.

Note that when helping a gift giver make a choice, he or she is ready to go the extra mile to figure out the perfect unique gift. The giver may try to read other people’s mind, believing that this will result in being called “a real friend” or “best gift giver ever.” But the fact is that simply sticking to the list is actually more thoughtful and considerate. This shows that givers are attentive and responsive to the needs of the other side.

When a gift giver comes to you to pick up a present, pay close attention to all the gift-giving pitfalls he or she may step into. Help the giver stick to the wish list or suggest getting one if it’s not present . Even Santa Claus needs to get a specific letter from us to get us what we want. So why bother with mind reading and making bad choices while shopping for gifts if there’s an easy way out?

Photo courtesy of Nick Kenrick via Creative Commons.


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