Buying gifts? Experience is hard to beat

Research by Assistant Professor Cindy Chan of the University of Toronto Scarborough has found that experiential gifts are more effective than material gifts at improving relationships from the recipient's perspective.
Research by Assistant Professor Cindy Chan of the University of Toronto Scarborough has found that experiential gifts are more effective than material gifts at improving relationships from the recipient's perspective.PHOTO: EPA

If you are still pondering over what to get your loved ones for Christmas, consider giving them an experience rather than a thing, urges science.

Research by Assistant Professor Cindy Chan of the University of Toronto Scarborough's Department of Management and the Rotman School of Management has found that experiential gifts are more effective than material gifts at improving relationships from the recipient's perspective.

"The reason experiential gifts are more socially connecting is that they tend to be more emotionally evocative," said Prof Chan, an expert on consumer relationships, in a statement by the university.

"An experiential gift elicits a strong emotional response when a recipient consumes it - like the fear and awe of a safari adventure, the excitement of a rock concert or the calmness of a spa - and is more intensely emotional than a material possession."

The research, co-authored with Associate Professor Cassie Mogilner of the UCLA Anderson School of Management, was published online in the Journal Of Consumer Research.


Instead of buying material gifts, consider someone's favourite hobby or something new they have always wanted to do, says Prof Chan, whose research found that experiential gifts are more effective than material ones at improving relationships. ST FILE PHOTO

FOSTERING RELATIONSHIPS

Often the focus is only on whether someone likes a gift rather than focusing on a fundamental objective of gift-giving, and that is fostering relationships between giver and recipient.

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR CINDY CHAN

The research explores how effective gifts are in building relationships.

Prof Chan believe this is an important area of research as households spend around 2 per cent of their annual income buying gifts, and that gifts are also important opportunities to nurture relationships.

Yet, according to the team's research, 78 per cent of respondents reported most recently buying material gifts rather than an experience.

"Often the focus is only on whether someone likes a gift rather than focusing on a fundamental objective of gift-giving, and that is fostering relationships between giver and recipient," she said.

So what advice does she have for last-minute gift buyers and marketers?

"Consider someone's favourite hobby or something new they've always wanted to do.

"Marketers should also package experiential gifts in a way that makes it easier for recipients to consume them so they don't have to be tied to using the gifts by a particular day or time," said Prof Chan.

Samantha Boh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2016, with the headline 'Buying gifts? Experience is hard to beat'. Print Edition | Subscribe