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Consumer psychology and holiday shopping

SciTech dissects the consumer psychology surrounding holiday gift-giving, exploring the factors that shape perceptions of the 'perfect gift.'

By Aisling Rawlinson, Third year, Geography

As the holiday season draws to a close, and students return to Bristol, the question of 'what did you get for Christmas?' will become commonplace once again. The idea of what constitutes a ‘good Christmas present’ is influenced by social and psychological factors concerning altruism, thoughtfulness, and monetary value. 

Research has shown there exists a range of psychological factors that influence the act of gift-giving and the interpretation of the gift by the receiver. Consumer psychology behind the desire to give and receive gifts particularly in the holiday period can shape our varying perceptions of what defines a ‘good gift’. As well as this, with the holiday shopping period starting earlier and lasting longer, it is increasingly important for businesses marketing strategies, which may in turn influence consumer psychology around this period. 

Consumer behaviour and holiday shopping is influenced by psychological, cultural, social, and economic factors. Gift-giving can create networks of social solidarity between friends and families, developing mutual obligations and the social norm of reciprocity. Christmas gifts are seen are largely reciprocal, gift-givers will often expect a gift in return, and if this expectation is not met relationships may become strained. This leads to the worry of getting the ‘right gift’ and matching the monetary value of gifts received and given. Therefore, the act of Christmas gifting becomes an interesting social and psychological phenomenon which serves to create feelings of social solidarity and the affirmation of relationships between friends and families. 

Christmas gifts have also been found to be important for maintaining relationships, as they come to represent symbols of relationships themselves. Virtually all gifts convey symbolic meaning, which is personal to each individual gift giver and receiver. This serves to increase and maintain social bonds and relationships. 

Social and emotional influences such as feelings of social obligation, social solidarity, and reciprocity, influence the modern act of gift-giving, leading to Christmas becoming a highly profitable time of the year for businesses. Because of this, many businesses seek to capitalise and tailor their marketing strategies to capture the attention of gift-givers, leading to the commercialisation of the Christmas holiday period. Marketing shapes consumer perceptions by associating products with specific values or lifestyles. The use of seasonal themes and imagery in marketing campaigns aim to appeal to consumers’ emotions and nostalgia around Christmas, as well as create a sense of urgency and pressure to select the ‘perfect gifts’ long ahead of Christmas day. 

Individual gift choices are shaped by emotional and social factors. The significance of the type of gifts bought and received differs between individuals. For some, there is a focus on altruism and the thoughtfulness of the gift, whilst for others, economic value and quality is key to a ‘good gift’. The price or quality of a gift may signify the giver’s desire to strengthen or maintain their relationship with the recipient, or indicate the recipient is someone who is close to them, like immediate family or close friends. However, whilst monetary value may be an important aspect of gift-giving and receiving for some people, the impact of thoughtful and meaningful presents can also strengthen relationships, as the recipient feels loved and grateful for their personal gift. 

The relationship between consumer psychology and holiday shopping is increasingly relevant for businesses seeking to increase their sales. For individuals, the psychological theories surrounding reciprocity, social norms, and the maintenance of relationships, are key to understanding connections between gift-givers and recipients.

Featured image: Unsplash / Kira auf der Heide

What do you think makes a good gift?