If you want that expensive holiday gift to make a big splash, don't add a little stocking stuffer to the package. That little add-on could make the whole present seem less special, a new study shows.
Scientists have learned that while gift buyers think that each additional parcel increases the bang you get for the whole bundle, in the eyes of the recipient, they devalue it. Study co-author Norbert Schwarz explains it this way, “the receiving party is averaging all the gifts in together. So even though we like to think that if we keep adding more good stuff to the package it will be valued more, the little gifts actually detract from the big one.”
In fact, spreading out the gifts over several days is probably the best way to get the biggest bang for the bundle, says Schwarz, a professor of psychology, marketing and social research at the University of Michigan.
To look at the disparity between givers and receivers, Schwarz and his colleagues ran a series of seven experiments. In one experiment, volunteers (acting as proxy for the gift givers) were asked to decide whether an iPod gift package should contain just the iPod and a case or the iPod, its case, plus a single song. More than 90 percent of the volunteers said they’d choose to give the option with the song added on and they’d be willing to shell out the extra money for the song.
In a separate part of the same experiment, another group of volunteers (acting as proxy for the gift recipients) were asked to rate the impressiveness of gifts, including the iPod with only a case and an iPod with a case and a song. Amazingly, people rated the iPod with just the case higher than the package that included the song.
Perhaps if the two iPod options had been put side by side people would have rated the one with the song higher, Schwarz says. But when volunteers weren’t directly comparing the two options, but were rating them separately, the addition of the song actually made the gift seem less valuable.
Gift giving is apparently much trickier than any of us might have imagined.
Other research has that we can completely outsmart ourselves when we try to be clever in picking out gifts, instead of just listening to what people say they want. One study, for example, showed that people who set up registries for wedding gifts weren’t particularly entertained by guests’ imaginative freelancing.
Parents might want to pay particular heed to that study. If your kid has made a list for Santa, you should probably be checking it twice.