In late 2010, eBay released the results of a national study identifying different kinds of gift givers according to their holiday shopping styles. In the eBay-commissioned survey called “The Psychology of Gifting” conducted by Kelton Research, adult American women were asked to identify their holiday gift shopping behaviors. The study resulted in four types of holiday shoppers, each type corresponding to a distinct gift giving style.
eBay’s Survey of Gift Giver Types
According to the eBay-sponsored survey, American women can be grouped into four types of gift givers. Which group do you belong to?
- Emotional Givers. About 4 out of 10 American women are Emotional Givers. They usually seek out unique gifts after giving much thought to the gifts and the recipients on their gift lists. Emotional Givers want to show how much they know the gift recipients, so they tend to plan their gifts, usually wrap the gifts themselves, and deliver the gifts usually with a handwritten note or card.
- Practical Givers. About 1 out of 5 American women fall into this category of givers. When they give, the best gift items are either cold cash or gift cards (gift certificates or gift cheques). The rule of practicality dominates their gift giving, thus they give recipients the freedom to choose what item the receiver thinks is best. And, the perfect instrument for that sort of freedom is either cash or a gift card.
- Convenience Givers. About 16 percent of the survey’s participants identified themselves under this type. Convenience Givers are efficient shoppers. They often prefer to buy gift items from only one store or source. For these women, looking for great gift ideas is a chore that they eventually have to (often grudgingly) accomplish. Most often, Convenience Givers hardly feel any excitement or joy in looking for the perfect gift to give.
- Last-Minute Givers. These are the women who shop for gifts at the eleventh hour. They seem to enjoy the mad rush of last-minute buying. About 13% of America’s women fall under this category. These gift shoppers usually do not plan their gifts way ahead of the holidays.
It seems possible to exhibit several of the characteristics of the different types of givers. For most people, however, one characteristic dominates, while one or two usually are just secondary behavioral traits.
One blogger, for instance, wrote that he actually became a cross between Emotional Giver and Convenience Giver. Proof of that, he said, was that he shopped for Christmas gifts—all of which he had carefully thought out and planned for specific recipients—from only one online store. Before his transmogrification to the Emotional-Convenience hybrid, he claimed he was definitely of the Last-Minute breed.
Skepticism of Such Surveys
eBay’s survey appears to be well-designed and has been reported to have a 95% confidence level with a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. When I first heard of this survey, my first impulse was to self-check and determine what kind of gift giver I am. Then, I slowly realized that I should take such surveys with a grain of salt.
First of all, this kind of survey, like many other similar surveys, emphasizes the material and financial/economic aspect of giving gifts—as if generosity can be objectively measured or quantified. By categorizing gift givers according to their shopping styles, the unspoken advocacy seems to be that “The perfect gift to give to anyone during the holidays is something that can be shopped from a store,” which is certainly not absolutely true in all cases. There are, in fact, limitless opportunities for anyone to give non-material, non-store-bought, non-monetarily-quantifiable gifts.
Yet, majority of people today feel compelled to give gifts to one another simply because of fear of social sanction. This brings me to my second reason for being skeptical: true giving—just like true love—conquers all fear, including the fear of social sanction and the fear of jumping off the bandwagon.
Seeming Lack of Spiritual Footing
There’s a spiritual dimension to the human tradition of gift giving, yet so many today have forgotten the true spirit of self-sacrificial generosity. Instead, we allow our capitalistic economy to encourage sentimentality in gift giving, as in the case of the Emotional Givers, who have to deal with the temptation of giving for the sake of giving—quite a big jump from the more noble and more thoughtful purpose of giving for the sake of assisting someone in need.
Or, take the case of the Convenience Givers and the Practical Givers who favor gift cards or cash. I can think of two possible motivations for this crowd to favor convenience when they set out to find the perfect gift.
One possible reason is that they haven’t really warmed up to the idea of holiday giving yet, or they just may be too lazy to sort out hundreds of gift ideas and find the perfect gift. They may possibly be generous in one way or another, although shopping for gifts for the holidays just might not be their idea of enjoying the holidays.
Another possible reason is that they feel obliged to engage in the social practice of looking for the best gifts to give during the holidays or on special occasions. They give gifts to avoid the societal frown that they would get if they don’t. This avoidance could be the reason for their preference to find the perfect gift from convenient, quick, hassle-free, and usually one-stop sources.
So, they seek the least troublesome road, especially the one with the sign that says “This way to the perfect gift idea that will take up just an iota of your thought, time, or effort.”
As for Last-Minute Givers, I believe they either just lack the time or shop at the last minute purely for the adrenaline rush. Nothing bad about the latter, but the former has question marks sprayed all over it. Truly loving persons are generous not only with their gifts but also with the time they use to find the perfect gift. If your gift is supposed to be a material representation of your love and concern for the welfare of another, then spend time to find the best gift. The time you sacrifice for finding the perfect gift is part of the gift itself.
Giving, in the true spirit of generosity and charity, always demands some form of sacrifice from the giver. It is a sacrifice that the giver willingly makes for the sake of the receiver. Generosity and giving are always other-centered. After reflecting on eBay’s survey, I am wont to say that unless you are inebriated by that self-sacrificing spirit, you will never be able to find the perfect gift at all.