Service of Choosing Gifts

December 2nd, 2021

Categories: Choice, Gifts, Manufacturing, Toys

‘Tis the season: Will you, too, be scratching your head to find perfect gifts?

Some of Evan Polman’s findings may shed light on final decisions. He reported them in “That Product Will Work Well for You. But for Me? Not So Much,” in The Wall Street Journal. Dr. Polman is associate professor of marketing at the Wisconsin School of Business in Madison.

“In 15 studies involving thousands of participants, we found that people believe that scores of products—including moisturizer, granola bars, calendars and online classes—will have a greater positive effect on others than on themselves.” The less familiar the product, wrote Dr. Polman, the stronger this belief. [He observed that some think medicines work better for others hence they opt to overdose, which obviously isn’t healthy…but I digress.]

Dr. Polman wrote: “When buying gifts for others, for example, we might worry less about whether something will be as effective as advertised because we assume it will have a relatively positive effect on the recipient.” That’s why, he posited, gifts are less practical and more creative than what most would buy for themselves. “This would suggest that people have a blind spot when choosing gifts for others, preferring gifts that dazzle in the short run but have less usefulness in the long run.”

I don’t think this happens when buying gifts for children who often have their hopes pinned on specific toys or games. Fanciful substitutes won’t do.

His research also has impact on a company introducing new products or entrepreneurs launching a business: “New products—and businesses—often fail, and this could be because marketers and entrepreneurs overestimate the benefits that their products will have for others.”

Given that the recipient already owns the basics, do you look for something special that is considered a treat, even an extravagance, that a beneficiary wouldn’t buy for him/herself? An example could be as simple as a luxury Swiss or Belgian hot chocolate powder vs. a generic grocery store brand that might already have a place in the pantry. Wouldn’t this also explain how people choose gifts, even if they don’t exactly “dazzle,” in Dr. Polman’s words? How do you decide?

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7 Responses to “Service of Choosing Gifts”

  1. Anonymous Said:

    I pay very close attention to what my friends talk about. I keep a list in my head of what will fill their specific needs and wants. I also start my shopping two months before the occasion. I don’t like to brag but so far I’m batting 90%. I feel really happy when someone says…”how’d you know I wanted that?”

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    What you do sounds like the best idea if friends share this kind of information with you. I trust nobody has mentioned Ferragamo shoes or Hermes handbags.

  3. Anonymous Said:

    Nope they haven’t. My girls are all practical and never has mentioned an item that costs more than their rent. That’s true for all of them!

  4. Anonymous Said:


    I have a fantasy that I win the lottery–a big one–giving me enough money that I can significantly support charities involved in feeding the hungry, finding cures to childhood cancer and supporting young musicians for starters. In Christmas cards to those dearest to me I would enclose hefty checks. What fun that would be.

  5. Anonymous Said:

    Well when my mom passed away I took a portion of my small inheritance and sent $100 to all the animal organizations I support.

  6. lucrezia Said:

    The purpose of a gift is to please the recipient, and not to treat him as a guineapig. So why not make things simple by getting a gift which is sure to please, rather than conducting an experiment which may well end up at the exchange desk or living out its lonely life in a drawer?

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I think Dr. Polman’s findings are of best use to people launching a business or new product and not as helpful to those who care to analyze why they choose the gifts they do.

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