Three simple tips for giving awesome holiday gifts this year

Teen girl holds a gift in her hands

Here are three tips to help you give awesome holiday gifts, with insight from assistant professor of marketing Mary Steffel, an expert in the psychology of gift-giving.

Don’t be afraid to give the same gift to multiple people

Steffel’s paper on gift-giving, published in the Journal of Consumer Research in 2014, found that shopping for multiple recipients led givers to choose unique but less preferred gifts for the loved ones on their lists.

Ironically, givers are most prone to pass up more preferred gifts in favor of unique gifts when they put extra thought and effort into their selections. Those who go with their gut are more likely to get whatever their recipients want most, even if that means getting the same gift for more than one person.

“Don’t overthink it,” Steffel notes. “People often make gift-giving mistakes because they put too much thought into what they’re buying.”

If three people on your list like the same book, then buy each of them the same book. If they like the same watch, then buy them the same watch.

You can still personalize the gifts you give. Stick a unique bookmark in each copy of the book, Steffel says, or inscribe the initials of the recipient in the band of each watch. You could even wrap each gift in a different way, using different colored wrapping paper or fancy bows.


“The ideal way to ensure that recipients enjoy your gift is to just ask them what they want.”.
—Mary Steffel, expert in the psychology of gift-giving

Give more versatile, less personalized gift cards

Givers tend to buy highly personalized gift cards for particular stores or brands, Steffel says. But her research shows that recipients prefer to receive versatile gift cards that can be used to buy whatever they want or need.

Instead of picking up a gift card for, say, Apple, select a Visa- or Mastercard-backed gift card.

“If you aren’t sure what a recipient wants,” Steffel explains, “then you may be better off giving a gift card that could be used just about anywhere.”

Just ask

Many gift-givers refuse to ask their recipients what they want for the holidays, Steffel says. They feel like it is their job to be particularly creative, to show off how well they know the people on their shopping list by buying the “perfect” gift with no inside knowledge.

“Givers often make the mistake of trying to wing it,” Steffel explains. But that is not necessarily the best approach to take. As she puts it, “The ideal way to ensure that recipients enjoy your gift is to just ask them what they want.”