Analysis Of The Value And Preferences For Gifts From Different Perspectives
Any product with an assigned status of a gift is much more complex in comparison to its non-gift form due to essential functional components of the gift-giving process discussed in the previous paragraph. A gift itself is a central part of the process which reflects the rest four components: occasion, donor, recipient and relationship. Thus, the gift matches the (1) occasion for which it is chosen, for example, a caring gift for a hospital visit. The gift also reflects (2) donor’s status, motivation and characteristics: donor’s self-concept and perception of the recipient. The gift choice will reflect certain personal characteristic of the donor, such as resources – financial, time and effort put into selection and acquisition of the gift. These gifting capacities of the donor are integrated into the symbolic meaning of the gift, and to be decoded by the recipient. Also, the gift represents (3) recipient’s personal wishes and requests if any. Finally, (4) the gift expresses the nature of the donor-recipient relationship, which can be characterised by longevity, geographical distance and emotional intensity. The level of the relationship intimacy determines the choice of a gift. For example, more expressive gifts are meant to be for close friends, while utilitarian gifts reflect more distant connections. The relationship dynamic between giving and receiving parties is governed by the role status of the donor and recipient. The status role of the giver and receiver can also affect the nature of the gift selected, for example, the nature of a gift in parent-child relationship is different from the teacher-pupil relationship context.
It is obvious that gift-giving is an absolute social phenomenon because of its social significance and influence on the donor-recipient relationships. However, it involves not only social context but personal and economic as well. Therefore, three functions could be attributed to the gift-giving: social, communicational, and economic. Onward, researches differentiate among three general dimensions that constitute situational perspectives of gift-giving that help to understand value and preferences for gifts, they are: social dimension, personal dimension and economic dimension.
Social dimension views a gift as an invitation to partnership and as a means to redeveloping donor-recipient relationships and interactions between two parties. According to Thomsen and Judith “[…] a gift is directly related to the symbolic value”. Thus, within social dimension, a gift symbolizes the nature of the donor-recipient relationship. A donor can implicitly or explicitly attach connotative strings to a gift and “[…] the social bonds being thereby forged and reciprocation encouraged”. As it was discussed before, with such culturally embedded norms of reciprocation, people are required to give, receive and reciprocate. Since people to whom we give are different from whom we do not give, gifting represents a tangible assertation of social relationships. And such relationships are considered to be mutually beneficial within the gifting domain. Thus, the value of the gift represents the importance of the relationship.
Personal dimension of gifting is closely connected to social dimension as it mirrors donor’s and recipient’s identities of self and others. A self-identity is translated through the gifts and presentation of the gifts. Thus, a gift can represent a projection of an ideal self-concept of a donor, who may strategically use it in gifting to create, strengthen or assert relationships with a recipient.
Economic dimension is another situational perspective from which gift-giving can be viewed. The focus is on monetary value of a gift and resources exchanged. From this perspective, Belk (1976) views gift-giving as a form of consumer behaviour and stresses the importance of balance in selection and evaluation of gifts, and satisfaction after gifting as a main driver of the behaviour. When the value of gift-exchange is perceived to be equal by the donor and recipient, the exchange is in equilibrium and both parties are satisfied. Imbalance in the gift-exchange, on the other hand, can lead to changes in the relationship and future interactions, what causes a great anxiety for both parties. The donor and receiver may consider the balance in buying gifts. Thus, resources that are perceived to be similar in value are more likely to be exchanged than dissimilar resources. Within this dimension, givers and receivers value economic and utilitarian functions of a gift most. Moreover, economic dimension can explain commercialisation of holidays that was driven by consumers’ materialistic behavior in purchasing gifts. Therefore, gifting represents a new form of consumption that has become a universal practice and expand with new products and new occasions to give gifts.
To sum up, gift-giving is a social phenomenon that is deeply embedded into our lives and strongly influences our personal relationships. There is no commonly adopted method to study gift-giving because of the cross-disciplinary nature of the topic that comprises multiple motivational dimensions including social, personal, and economic dimensions of gift-giving behavior.