Effects of Gift-Giving Involvement on Gift Selection Strategies

Russell W. Belk, University of Utah
ABSTRACT - Several previous studies (Gronhaug, 1972; Weigl, Vincent and Zikmund, 1976; Ryans, 1977; Coney ant Harmon, 1979; Clarke and Belk, 1979; Heeler, et al., 1979; Warshaw, 1980: have investigated differences in consumer purchase behavior which occur when a purchase selection is to be presented as a gift rather than used by the purchaser. A portion of this research has found that when a product is to be presented as a gift it entails a greater expenditure of time and money than when the same product is to be used by the buyer. While this might suggest that gift-giving is an especially involving purchasing situation, the research to date has not been consistent in its evidence to support this view. One reason for this inconsistent in findings concerning gift-giving involvement may be that different gift-giving situations show considerably different levels of giver involvement. The present study tests this interpretation by varying involvement through different gift-giving scenarios. Results support the expectation that differences in involvement brought about by different gift-giving situations cause different consumer purchase strategies to be invoked.
[ to cite ]:
Russell W. Belk (1982) ,"Effects of Gift-Giving Involvement on Gift Selection Strategies", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 09, eds. Andrew Mitchell, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 408-412.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 9, 1982      Pages 408-412

EFFECTS OF GIFT-GIVING INVOLVEMENT ON GIFT SELECTION STRATEGIES

Russell W. Belk, University of Utah

[The author wishes to thank Warren Krueger and Hallmark Cards, Inc. for allowing these results to be presented.]

ABSTRACT -

Several previous studies (Gronhaug, 1972; Weigl, Vincent and Zikmund, 1976; Ryans, 1977; Coney ant Harmon, 1979; Clarke and Belk, 1979; Heeler, et al., 1979; Warshaw, 1980: have investigated differences in consumer purchase behavior which occur when a purchase selection is to be presented as a gift rather than used by the purchaser. A portion of this research has found that when a product is to be presented as a gift it entails a greater expenditure of time and money than when the same product is to be used by the buyer. While this might suggest that gift-giving is an especially involving purchasing situation, the research to date has not been consistent in its evidence to support this view. One reason for this inconsistent in findings concerning gift-giving involvement may be that different gift-giving situations show considerably different levels of giver involvement. The present study tests this interpretation by varying involvement through different gift-giving scenarios. Results support the expectation that differences in involvement brought about by different gift-giving situations cause different consumer purchase strategies to be invoked.

INTRODUCTION

Gift-giving is a unique phenomenon in that it involves a combination of economic, socials and self-expressive motivations. As a result of this peculiar status gift-giving has been researched as a distinct phenomenon in the fields of anthropology (Mauss, 1954; Levi-Strauss, 1965), sociology (Gouldner, 1960; Neisser, 1973), psychology (Jones, 1964; Schwartz, 1967), economics (Belshaw, 1965; Kerton, 1971), and consumer research (Bussey, 1967; Lowes, Turner, and Wills, 1971; Belk, 1976, 1979; Ryans, 1977; Banks, 1979).

Since it has been estimated that nearly 95 percent of the gifts given in the U.S. are purchased products rather than services or products made by the giver (Belk, 1979), we might ask how gift purchases ant the gift purchase process differ from personal purchases and their attendant purchase process. One general answer to this question is that gift selection is a more involving activity than making a comparable selection for personal use.

There are at least two types of involvement with which we might be concerned in gift-giving. One is item-specific and the other is purchase situation-specific. The item-specific form of involvement has been called "importance of purchase" (Howard and Sheth, 1969), "issue involvement" (Lastovicka, 1976), "enduring involvement" (Rothchild, 1977) and "product involvement" (Clarke ant Belk, 1979). The essence of the construct involved in these phrases is that the consumer who is high in purchase item-specific involvement cares more about that item and is more interested in the purchase outcome.

The second type of involvement of concern in gift-giving is task involvement (Belk, 1975; Clarke ant Belk, 1979). Rather than attaching to a particular product, this type of involvement arises from the consumer's goals in a particular shopping situation ant includes the usage situation envisioned for the product. As Clarke and Belk (1979) point out, "the task may be highly involving either because it entails important immediate goals (e.g. find a coat which is the least expensive wool coat in town), or because the intended usage situation involves important goals (e.g. find a dress to wear to the prom)."

Normally it may be expected that item-specific involvement and task involvement covary in gift-giving. Assuming that the gift-giving occasion and recipient bring about high task involvement, it should be more likely that the gift-giver will attempt to select a gift item that is high in involvement as well. If it is assumed that gift selection is a more involving task than buying for personal use product held constant), there is also some evidence of other gift-giving involvement effects on purchase activity.

Gronhaug (1972) found that compared to recent buyers of tableware for personal use, those giving tableware as a gift reported considering more alternative choices, shopping at more dealers, seeking more advice from others, and reading dealers' brochures more thoroughly. Hart (1974) fount higher levels of perceived risk in buying for others as a gift rather than for one's self. Shapiro (1975) reported that price is less of a constraint in gift purchase than in purchase for self. And Clarke and Belk (1979) found that subjects reported that they would spend more time and money and visit more stores in selecting the same products as gifts than they would for personal use.

However, there is also conflicting evidence about the relative levels of involvement in gift selection versus self-use selection. Ryans (1977) found that gift buyers of small appliances reported a greater use of high status stores than self-use buyers of the same product, but found that the amount of search time to select an appliance as a gift (at least for someone outside of the giver's household) was shorter than when buying the same type of product for personal use. Heeler et al. (1979) also found less information search effort was expended by subjects in an information display board task when instructed to select a blender as a wedding gift rather than when instructed to select from the same product category for personal use. Weigl (1975) reports that subjects perceived no more perceived risk (except for financial perceived risk) in the purchase of a tennis racquet as a gift than in the purchase of the same product for personal use. And Vincent and Zikmund (1976) found higher levels of social perceived risk lower levels of financial perceived risk, ant no difference in performance and physical perceived risks in buying an electric knife for a gift versus for personal use.

One possible reconciliation of these conflicting findings is that while some gift-giving occasions ant recipients create a highly involving purchase situation, other occasions ant recipients create uninvolving purchase situations. Thus the selection of a first anniversary gift for a spouse may entail considerable effort expenditure, while an obligatory graduation present for a distant relative may result in the automatic selection of a highly traditional present. The present study sought to explore the effects of different levels of gift-giving involvement on the gift selection process in order to resolve the apparent conflicts in prior research findings. The maj or hypotheses were that gift-giving situations differ in involvement and that these differences in involvement directly influence the amount of effort devoted to the purchase selection process.

There is suggestive support for these hypotheses in the fact that the studies cited above as showing greater effort in gift selection as opposed to selection for personal use have involved products considered to be high in involvement (e.g. clothing, beauty products, records) while those studies failing to support this relationship more commonly used lower involvement products such as small appliances. Studies by Hupfer and Gardner (1971) and Lastovicka (1976) support these interpretations of relative involvement with these products.

Another advantage of manipulating involvement levels solely within gift-giving situations is more methodological in nature. For those prior studies that have compared purchase processes between those who bought a particular product for personal use and those who bought it as a gift (Ryans, 1977; Gronhaug, 1972), the problem is that the self-selection which this allows may result in two quite different groups of people. This confounds comparisons of the purchase processes for these two groups. For other studies that have asked people to imagine choosing the same product as a gift for others or as a purchase for self (Clarke and Belk, 1979; Weigl, 1974; Heeler, et al. , 1979, Hart, 1974), there is a different methodological limitation. In these instances it may be highly artificial to ask someone to imagine giving a particular product such as bubble bath as a gift (Lutz, 1979). This may create an unnatural pairing of high situation-specific involvement and low item-specific involvement. Furthermore, the repeated measures nature of some of these designs may artificially inflate measures of the differences between purchasing strategies for self and for gift recipients. In order to get around these problems the present study utilized an experimental design to randomly assign subjects to gift-giving scenarios differing in involvement and asked for evaluations of the characteristics of appropriate gifts rather than for a specific product.

METHOD

Following a pretest with 149 females interviewed in shopping mall intercepts, a list of 87 gift characteristics was developed which seemed to represent the array of criteria people employ in evaluating the suitability of potential gifts. This list included several aspects of gift selection strategy which are of interest here as well as a large enough list of other characteristics in which they were imbedded so that the potential for demand characteristics was minimized. The six gift characteristics hypothesized to differ in desirability with the level of involvement created by the gift-giving situation were:

1. Costs less than $10

2. Is high quality

3. Can be bought quickly and conveniently

4. Costs more than $20

5. Is a "spur-of-the-moment" purchase

6. Is inexpensive.

It was predicted that less involving gift-giving situations would be reported to warrant less costly gifts (items 1, 4, and 6), more easily purchased gifts (items 3 and 5), and lower quality gifts (item 2).

In order to test these propositions, a completely randomized experimental design was employed with subjects assigned to one of the following four treatment conditions:

1. A birthday gift for a close female friend who is about your age;

2. A thank-you gift to repay some favor such as watching your home while you were away for a close female friend who is about your age;

3. A birthday gift for a casual female friend who is older than you.

4. A wedding gift for a close young female relative.

Situations one and four were intended to represent high involvement gift-giving situations while situations two and three were intended to be low in involvement.

As Ray (1979) has argued, "...there will be no one best method to measure involvement. The components and effects of involvement will be governed primarily by the consumer decision situations". The manipulations of involvement in the present study were checked by having subjects respond to the question, "Compared to other gifts you give, how special should a gift to this person on this occasion be?", using a five point scale from "not at all special" to "very special". In addition, to add realism to the task of describing how desirable each gift characteristic is in the given situation, subjects were asked to give the first name and age of someone they know who fits the description given by the gift-giving scenario (although they were also asked not to think in terms of a particular prior gift to this person). The age responses were also used to verify the success of the manipulations. The results of the maniPulation checks are presented in the following section.

All 87 gift characteristics, including the six of interest ere, were measured using the five point scale:

1 - Very Undesirable

2 - Somewhat Undesirable

3 - Does Not Matter

4 - Somewhat Desirable

5 - Very Desirable

In an effort to reduce the potential for order bias, questionnaires with four different question sequences (randomly chosen) were employed. Coupled with the four different treatment scenarios this resulted in 16 questionnaire versions in all.

To obtain subjects for the experimental design, 150 households were selected from the 1980 telephone directories of each of 12 cities selected by size and geographic region to include a medium and large size city from each of six regions of the United States. The 12 were:

Northwest: Great Falls, Montana and Sacramento, Calif.

Southwest: Carson City, Nevada and Phoenix, Arizona

North Central: Muncie, Indiana and Minneapolis, Minn.

South Central: Little Rock, Arkansas and Austin, Tex.

Northeast: Allentown, Pa. and Willmington, Delaware

Southeast: Raleigh, North Carolina and Atlanta, Ga.

Questionnaires were addressed to Mrs. (household name) and the instructions asked that an adult female respond to the questionnaire. Each of the 16 questionnaire versions were used in each region. Out of 1500 questionnaires originally sent out, 305 or just over 20 percent were returned. The low response rate may be accounted for by the lengthy questionnaire, an imperfect sampling frame, and the fact that questionnaires arrived shortly after 1980 census forms were received. Nevertheless a comparison of early versus late responses showed no significant differences in respondent age or responses to questionnaire items, and there was no reason to expect any systematic biases differing between treatment levels. Nevertheless the low response rate weakens the generalizability of the findings and increases the desirability of future replications. The number of usable responses ranged from 67 to 78 per treatment condition and totalled 291 across the four treatment levels.

RESULTS

Manipulation Checks

As shown in Table 1, the "wedding" and "birthday gift for a "close friend" situations were, as intended, perceived as more involving ("special") than the "thank-you gift" and "birthday gift for a casual friend" situations. The table also shows that the age of the gift recipients envisioned by the respondents while filling-out the questionnaire very closely matches the situational descriptions. since the mean age of respondents was 38.6, the mean ages for the two situations specifying a recipient "about your age" are quite close to the intended manipulation. Furthermore the "older recipients" and "young recipients" were also suitably older and young as reflected in the mean recipient ages within these treatment conditions. Thus conditions appear to have been successfully manipulated for effects from involvement to occur if there were to be any.

TABLE 1

RESULTS OF MANIPULATION CHECKS

Effects of Gift-giving Involvement

Table 2 summarizes the results of the six analyses of variance testing whether the desirability of the six key gift characteristics was independent of the treatment condition which the subject received. It may readily be seen that the treatment (gift-giving situation) had an effect on ratings of the desirability of each of the gift characteristics. In order to consider the nature of these effects Table 3 shows the means for each of the four gift-giving situations. In general these results indicate support for the hypotheses, but also suggest a somewhat more complicated outcome than anticipated.

TABLE 2

ANOVA RESULTS ON EACH CRITERION VARIABLE

While the two high involvement situations resulted in the highest ratings for "is high quality", only two of the three cost items came out exactly as predicted. The two high involvement situations received the highest ratings for the desirability that the gift cost more than $20 and the lowest ratings for the desirability of being inexpensive, but only one of the two high involvement situations (the wedding) was seen as inappropriate for a gift costing less than $10. The same high involvement anomaly occurs for the ease of purchase measures which show that it is undesirable for the wedding gift to be a quick and convenient or a spur-of-the-moment purchase but that these characteristics are not undesirable in a birthday gift for a close friend. More generally it may be seen that responses in the two low involvement situations were most often similar, but responses to the two high involvement situations were seldom similar.

TABLE 3

MEAN CHARACTERISTIC RATINGS BY GIFT-GIVING SITUATION

DISCUSSION

The present findings suggest most clearly that there is significant variation in purchase strategies between different gift-giving situations which may confound attempts to generalize about distinctions between purchasing a gift for others versus purchasing a product for one's self. At the same time it toes not appear that the concept of involvement is able to account for these differences by itself. While high involvement gift-giving situations tent to be seen as calling for higher quality ant more expensive gifts ant as justifying spending more time and shopping effort, the high involvement birthday gift was seen to call for less expensive gifts ant less tine ant effort than the high involvement wedding gift. Thus it appears that gift-giving situations to differ in involvement ant that this affects the amount of care ant money devoted to the purchase, but other factors play a role as well.

A primary candidate for these "other factors" which may modify the effect of gift-giving involvement is the expectations which attach to the specific gift-giving occasion. Belk (1979) fount that, ignoring recipient, wedding gifts were judged to require more expensive selections than birthday gifts. While different recipients included in the present scenarios were apparently enough to balance the involvement levels for these two occasions, they may not have been enough to negate the normative expectations about appropriate wetting ant birthday gift characteristics across the situations in Table 3. In addition to fairly high similarity in the two columns of ratings, the higher involvement situation (#1) is always either rated differentially higher or lower as predicted by the involvement hypothesis or else is not significantly different from the other birthday situation. Thus the strength of normative guidelines for birthday gifts, where it worked at cross purposes, may have modified the effect of involvement levels so that the high involvement wedding selection and the high involvement birthday selection take on somewhat unique desirable traits.

Future research extending these findings could verify the explanation given for the two present data anomalies by orthogonally manipulating gift-giving involvement and the type of occasion. More generally, future research on gift-giving should avoid generalizing about differences between selecting gifts versus selecting products for personal use. The present study shows that this is overly simplistic in light of the substantial differences which exist within gift-giving situations.

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