To regift or not to regift: Is it ever OK?

Sometimes you just don't want it.
Sometimes you just don't want it.PhotoAlto/Michele Constantini | PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections | Getty Images / Today

Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
By Herb Weisbaum

OK, I’ve done it. And quite frankly, I always feel guilty about regifting.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the present. But sometimes you get something that you really don’t like or can’t use, and there’s no way to take it back to the store. You don’t want to offend the person who gave it to you and you don’t want to throw it away. So you pass it along to someone else who might appreciate it more.

Is this a resourceful way of dealing with an unwanted gift? Or is this rude and distasteful behavior?

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that regifting, “once a social taboo, is gradually gaining in acceptance.” The Journal points to a nationwide consumer spending survey done by American Express last year. More than half the respondents (58 percent) said it was OK to regift sometimes and 79 percent believed regifting during the holidays is acceptable. Of the 2,000 people questioned, nearly a quarter admitted to regifting at least one present the previous holiday season.

But there’s more. A new paper, “The Gift We Keep on Giving,” published by Psychological Science, concludes that regifting is not as offensive to the original givers as regifters assume.

Researchers from Stanford, Harvard and the London Business School conducted five studies that examined both hypothetical scenarios and actual regifting among friends.

They found that gift recipients believed regifting was as bad as throwing the present in the garbage. Gift givers, on the other hand, were significantly more offended by trashing their presents. They’d be much happier if that gift were given to someone else.

What causes this split perception?  

It appears to be linked to different views about entitlement. The authors concluded: “Givers believed that the act of gift giving passed title to the gift on to receivers, so that receivers were free to decide what to do with the gift; in contrast, receivers believed that givers retained some say in how their gifts were used.”

In other words, we may feel guilty when we regift because we believe that present came with strings attached, even though that may not be the case. This makes us assume the act of regifting is more offensive to the original gift-giver than it actually is.

One more interesting finding: When study participants were presented with the concept of a “National Regifting Day” as a way to remove the stigma from regifting, they felt better about the practice.

Based on their work, the researchers suggest a simple solution to the increased practice of regifting.

“Givers should encourage receivers to use their gifts as they please,” they write, “perhaps going so far as to tell receivers that they will not be offended if the receiver chooses to regift – or at least, not as offended as receivers might expect.”

The authors say further study is needed to examine regifting based on the relationship between the giver and the recipient. Because the gifts given by close friends are often different from those given by acquaintances, regifting may have more negative consequences in these situations.

They suggest that “regifting symbolic gifts – for example, a hand-sewn scarf—may be more likely to offend givers because it sends a stronger signal that receivers do not value their relationship with the givers.”

Should you hide the fact that you're regifting?

This study did not examine that. But lead researcher Gabrielle Adams, an assistant professor at London Business School, was asked that question in an interview published on the website of the Association for Psychological Science.

“If I were to guess, I would say that regifters should not try to hide the fact that they are regifting, and instead should emphasize that the reason they are regifting is because they think it is better suited to the receiver than it was to them,” she responded. 

Herb Weisbaum is The ConsumerMan. Follow him on Facebook and Twitteror visit The ConsumerMan website.

More money news: