Greeting Cards and Gifts: an Exploratory Study of Young Singaporeans

ABSTRACT - This article reports an exploratory study on greeting card and gift giving behaviors of young Singaporeans. We examined whether greeting cards exchanged for non-professional reasons are perceived to be gifts and also if there are similarities between gift giving and greeting card giving behaviors in terms of perceived ability to communicate with friends and family, obligation to reciprocate, perceived amount given, perceived effort, importance of personal values and gender. We also examined the various occasions when gifts and cards are commonly exchanged. Results show that the card is considered to be a gift and that those who perceive themselves as good communicators gave more cards and gifts. Several dimensions of card giving behavior were related to values in the LOV scale as in the case of gift-giving. Birthdays and the Christmas /New Year Season are two popular occasions for exchanging gifts and cards.



Citation:

Saroja Subrahmanyan (1999) ,"Greeting Cards and Gifts: an Exploratory Study of Young Singaporeans", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Bernard Dubois, Tina M. Lowrey, and L. J. Shrum, Marc Vanhuele, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 317-324.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1999      Pages 317-324

GREETING CARDS AND GIFTS: AN EXPLORATORY STUDY OF YOUNG SINGAPOREANS

Saroja Subrahmanyan, National University of Singapore, Singapore

ABSTRACT -

This article reports an exploratory study on greeting card and gift giving behaviors of young Singaporeans. We examined whether greeting cards exchanged for non-professional reasons are perceived to be gifts and also if there are similarities between gift giving and greeting card giving behaviors in terms of perceived ability to communicate with friends and family, obligation to reciprocate, perceived amount given, perceived effort, importance of personal values and gender. We also examined the various occasions when gifts and cards are commonly exchanged. Results show that the card is considered to be a gift and that those who perceive themselves as good communicators gave more cards and gifts. Several dimensions of card giving behavior were related to values in the LOV scale as in the case of gift-giving. Birthdays and the Christmas /New Year Season are two popular occasions for exchanging gifts and cards.

INTRODUCTION

Greeting Cards are considered to be a contemporary American token gift (Sherry, 1983). In the western world, sending greeting cards became a custom for people of all socioeconomic classes when England adopted the Uniform Postage Act in 1840 (Cacioppo and Andersen, 1981). In America, the greeting card industry started in the early 1900's (Chase 1956). By 1995, it had become a $6.3 billion industry with Americans purchasing an estimated 7.4 billion cards that year (Mogelonsky 1996). This contemporary American ritual has become popular in other parts of the world including Asia in the last three decades. Worldwide sales of industry leader Hallmark, which has wholly owned subsidiaries in 12 countries and distribution in more than 100 countries, was $3.7 billion (Business Wire 1998).

According to Erbaugh (forthcoming 1999), there was practically no greeting card in China or even Taiwan in the 1970's. While, it did exist in other parts of Asia even earlier, such as in Singapore and certain cities in India, perhaps due to their colonial past, its frequency and usage has definitely increased in the last two decades. In India, this industry is now estimated to be worth about $100 million (Raval 1997). In Singapore, the post offices have even started selling greeting cards in their premises since the early 1990's. The Malaysian post offices delivered 50 million greeting cards during the Hari Raya and Chinese New Year celebrations in 1998 (The New Straits Times, 1998). [Note: Hari Raya marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and is celebrated by the Muslims].

Why do we send greeting cards? One reason to explain this ritual is that greeting card developers provide us with cards that are appropriate for a wide variety of circumstances (Hirshey, 1995). Cards could also provide a means of communicating our sentiments to people we cannot meet on several important occasions (Davis 1972, Erbaugh 1999, Tong 1998). Another reason is that cards can explicitly communicate our feelings and sentiments and thus reduce decoding errors during the symbolic communication process (Ruth, 1996). As opposed to this reasoning, Dodson and Belk (1996) suggest that in fact the card can be a potential landmine that may cause miscommunication. Still others suggest (Brabant and Mooney 1989, Hirshey 1995) that people give cards as it provides an avenue for communicating messages difficult to deliver face-to-face. This is also echoed by several greeting card manufacturers and retailers as reported by Davis (1972), Raval (1997) and Business Line (1998). Does this popular wisdom then imply that a sender's perception of how well she communicates her feelings towards friends and family affect the perceived amount, perceived effort or any other measures of greeting card giving behavior? There appears to be no research that specifically addresses this question.

Cards seem to share aspects of a gift as well aspects of other forms of communication such as letter-writing. According to Belk (1979), gifts serve four functions: communication, social exchange, socialization and economic exchange. Cards may only marginally serve as a means of economic exchange perhaps as a form of house decoration during festivals (Sapawi 1997) or posters that brighten up the walls like calendars (Erbaugh 1999). However, it can serve the other functions effectively. In spite of being a token gift, one can spend quite a bit of time searching for an appropriate card. As Sherry (1983) mentions, a husband or wife can spend many thoughtful hours searching for the "right" 75 cents card with which to delight a spouse. Is a card then perceived to be a gift? Would a receiver be motivated to reciprocate to a card? In many rituals such as birthdays, when a gift is given, one may in addition give a card. So, it is not clear whether cards are thought of as a form of gift. Erbaugh's students in China mentioned that cards are better than gifts as they are easier to select and entail lesser obligation than gifts. Papson (1986), however, suggests that a card's price might mediate in the relationship signified by the exchange and since there is a lack of ambivalence in this symbolic exchange, it demands equivalence. Would a receiver then be motivated to reciprocate to a card as in the case of a gift? Rucker, Freitas and Kangas (1996) suggest that financial sacrifice may be more appreciated than investments of time and effort by eastern cultures. They find support for this in their study, which examines gift-giving behaviors of Asian students in America. Would this then imply that cards would not be as perceived as gifts and be seen as being meaningful in an eastern culture?

If cards share many aspects of gift-giving, then would it also be related to personal values? Beatty, Kahle and Homer (1991) and Beatty et al (1996) find that people who perceive themselves as giving more gifts and putting more effort into giving them also rated social values (warm relationships with others, sense of belonging and self-respect) higher than others. They found this relationship held for peoples from the U.S. and some European countries as well as for Asian students in America. Would such relationships hold for greeting cards as well?

Purpose of Research:

The purpose of this exploratory study is to examine the questions that we raised so far in a Singapore context. Thus, we will explore the following issues: Is a greeting card perceived to be a gift? Would a receiver feel obliged to reciprocate to a card? Would this level of reciprocation be lower than for gifts? Would a sender of cards feel that she does not communicate well with her family and friends? Would measures of greeting card giving behavior such as the perceived amount, perceived effort and reciprocity be related to personal values? In doing so, we also extend the earlier studies that examine gift-giving behaviors and personal values by studying new dimensions as well as applying it to a new subculture that has hitherto not been studied in this specific context. In addition, we will examine the occasions on which cards and gifts are exchanged and the effect of demographic variables such as gender on measures of gift and greeting card giving behavior. This study does not consider cards exchanged for professional networking, corporate communication or direct marketing purposes.

McCullough, Tan and Wong (1986) and Wallendorf and Reilly (1983), point out that research on ethnic groups is important not only from a marketers viewpoint but also to gain a greater understanding of international markets and to determine how broadly we can generalize various consumer behavior models. Otnes and Beltramini (1996) and Sherry (1983) also underscore the importance of studying gift-giving among people with different national heritages as it would help us understand how this exchange process is evaluated among diverse peoples. Since greeting cards are closely related to gift-giving (and may very well be considered a gift by many), this study though exploratory in nature, will be a step in that direction.

Singapore is a relatively wealthy urban country on the increasingly important Pacific Rim (Tan and Farley 1987). It has a per capita GDP of over 28 thousand U.S. dollars, which is a level comparable to that of the U.S (AsiaWeek 1998). About 75% of its population are of ethnic Chinese origin, about 15% Malay and about 7% of Indian origin. Western style greeting cards with words in English are sold in many outlets. Stores selling cards and gifts such as the ones in the U.S are also found here. Judging by the cards available in the stores, popular occasions for sending cards appear to be festivals such as Christmas, New Year, Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Deepavali. Hari Raya is celebrated by the Muslim community, which consists of people mainly of Malay origin whereas Deepavali is celebrated by the Hindus, who are mainly of Indian origin. Cards for other occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, birth of baby etc. were also found in the stores. Prior to conducting this study, in-depth interviews were conducted with 8 young Singaporeans between the ages of 18 and 25. It appears that for this age group, cards are not normally given to family members as most stay at home and were mostly exchanged among friends.

METHOD

Sampling and Sample Profile:

This exploratory study was conducted by means of a survey. A convenience sample was taken with undergraduate students from a large university in Singapore as participants. After excluding responses from foreign students and those not of ethnic Chinese origin, a sample size of 137 was obtained. Out of these, 45 were males and 92 females. Except for five students who were 25, the rest were between 18 and 24 years of age. 91% of the sample lived with their parents while the rest stayed in the university halls of residence or with friends. None were married or had children.

Questionnaire Format:

The questionnaire was in English as it is the primary language of instruction in most schools right from kindergarten. Students learn other languages including their mother tongues, Mandarin, Malay or Tamil, only as a second language. The questionnaire consisted of five sections. The first section asked respondents to read the List of Values developed by Kahle and Kennedy (1988), then state the most important value out of the list and then the least important value. Following this they rated all the nine values on a 6-point Likert scale with 1 being 'Not At All Important' and 6 'Very Important.' This method of least-most followed by rating values is recommended by Shrum and McCarty (1997) to achieve greater differentiation in the ratings for the values.

The second section consisted of 13 statements regarding gift-giving and receiving behaviors, which were responded to on 6-point Likert scales (Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Disagree Somewhat, Agree Somewhat, Agree and Strongly Agree). These statements included the 7 items that have been used in previous studies (Beatty et al 1996 and Beatty, Kahle and Homer 1991) to measure perceived amount of gift given and perceived effort involved in gift-giving. Other items were added based on in-depth interviews conducted prior to developing the survey to elicit responses on reciprocity, how cash gifts were viewed and whether practical gifts or mementos were preferred.

The third section consisted of 12 statements on greeting card giving and receiving behaviors, which were also responded to on a similar 6-point Likert scale. These included items to measure perceived amount of greeting cards given, perceived effort, obligation to reciprocate, meaningfulness of the card, how well the respondent considered himself to be at communicating his feelings towards friends and family and whether the cards received were kept as mementos. Items in sections 2 and 3 are reproduced in the Results section in Tables 1. The fourth section asked respondents to indicate in a table the number of gifts and greeting cards that they gave and received for various occasions during the last year (specified as one year before the date they filled out the questionnaire). The last section assessed demographic data including gender, age-range, number of siblings and religion.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Gift & Card Giving Measures:

To identify the dimensions of gift and card giving behaviors, all 25 items from the second and third sections of the questionnaire were subject to factor analysis using varimax rotation. A seven-factor solution explaining 66% of total variance was obtained. These items are listed in Table 1. Note that the first thirteen items Gi (i=1, 13) refer to gift related behaviors and the remaining items Ci (i=1, 12), refer to card related behaviors. The factors appeared to be the following:

Factor 1: Five items (C1, C2, C3, C4 and C11) loaded at>0.5 on this factor. This appears to be specifically related to cards and seems to measure whether a person considered herself as giving a lot of greeting cards and also whether cards were seen as a meaningful way of communicating. These items were summed up to form a new scale called CardAmt with scale reliability of 0.82.

Factor 2: Three items G1, G2 & G3 loaded at>0.8 on this factor. This appears to represent perceived amount of gift given and is consistent with scales used by Beatty (1991, 1996). However, the fourth item used in their study, which was also the fourth item in ours, did not load highly on this amount factor. Instead, G13 loaded at 0.584 suggesting that one who receives more gifts may also give more or vice versa. G13 also had significantly high correlation with the first three items (all with p<0.0005). All these four items G1, G2, G3 & G13 were added up to form a new scale called GiftAmt resulting in a scale reliability of 0.81.

Factor 3: Six items, G4, G5, G6, G7, G8 and C5 loaded at>0.5 on this factor. These appear to measure perceived effort involved in giving gifts or cards. Items related to gift giving are again consistent with those from prior studies. The effort involved in giving cards, C5, seems to load on the same factor as effort for gifts suggesting that a person who expends more effort in giving gifts is likely to do so for cards as well. All these items are summed up to represent Effort with scale reliability of 0.78.

Factor 4: Two items, C9 and C10 loaded at>0.7 on this factor. This appeared to measure the participant's perception of how well she communicated with family and friends. We notice that respondents on an average felt they communicated better with their close friends (mean 4.43) than with their families (mean 3.73). This difference is significant (p<0.0005) and is consistent with results reported in a Singapore newspaper (Mathi 1997) which mentions that the young "hide their true feelings at home and let down their hair with friends." However, C9 and C10 had a significant positive correlation of 0.603 (p<0.0005). This implies that those who felt they communicated better with close friends also perceived themselves as communicating better with their families. Both these items were summed up to form a new scale called PerceivedCom with scale reliability of 0.75. Item C6, which had its highest loading on this factor was dropped from further analysis as it considerably reduced scale reliability.

Factor 5: Items G12, C11 and C12 loaded at 0.5 on this factor. This factor appeared to measure whether respondents kept gifts or cards as mementos. These items were added up to form the scale, Keepsakes, with scale reliability of 0.67.

Factor 6: Items G9 and C8 loaded at>0.77 on this item. This factor appears to measure how obligated the respondent feels to reciprocate for both cards and gifts. We notice that mean for gift reciprocity (Mean G9=4.71) is higher than that for card reciprocity (Mean C8=4.32) with the difference between them significant (p<0.0005). This confirms to the common notion that one would feel more obligated to reciprocate to a gift than a card. However, the mean for C8 is significantly different from 3 which represents Disagree Somewhat ( t=13.17, df=136). So, overall, respondents did feel obligated to reciprocate to a card. However, C8 & G9 also have a significant positive correlation of 0.59 (p<0.0005). Thus, a person who is more inclined to reciprocate to a gift seems to also be more inclined to reciprocate to a card. These two items were summed up to form the scale, Reciprocity, and had a scale reliability of 0.73.

Factor 7: This factor loads positively on C7 at>0.5 and negatively on G10 and G11 with absolute values>0.6. Thus, those who prefer practical or cash gifts do not seem to consider greeting cards as a form of gift. That seems to be consistent with the notion that cards are only symbolic gifts and hence not valued by those who preferred practical gifts. C7 was reverse coded and added up along with G10 & G11 to form a scale called PracticalGift. This had a scale reliability of 0.5.

TABLE 1

GIFT AND CARD GIVING MEASURES AND FACTOR LOADINGS

So, is a greeting card a gift? The mean response to this question is 4.01. This is significantly different from 3 which represents Disagree Somewhat (t=9.49, p<0.0005). However, since 4 on the Likert scale represented only Agree Somewhat, a card is obviously not considered the same as a gift. What is interesting though is those who considered the card as a gift gave more gifts and (correlation to G1 and G3 were significant at the 0.01 level) and did not prefer practical gifts (correlation was significantly negative with G11 at the 0.01 level). We also examined the relationship among these new scales by doing a correlation analysis (see Table 2).

We see that those who perceived themselves as giving more cards also perceived themselves as giving more gifts (or vice versa) and expending more effort in giving them. They also perceived themselves as better communicators with friends & family, preferred to keep gifts and cards as mementos and considered cards as a form of gift. Such people did feel obligated to reciprocate, although, this relationship was not strong.

Do people send cards because they feel they are not good communicators? On the contrary, we see from Table 2 that those who felt they were good at communicating with friends and family also perceived themselves as giving more gifts and cards and also expending more effort in giving them. Perhaps a person who feels she is good at communicating with others finds cards and gifts an appropriate or effective medium of communication.

Measures of gift and greeting cards and their Relation to Values:

The most frequent value for "The Most Important Value" was Warm Relationship with Others (21.9% of sample), followed by A Sense of Accomplishment (21.2%), Self-Fulfillment (18.2 %) and Fun and Enjoyment of Life (12.4 %). None rated Excitement as the Most Important Value. In spite of the most-least value being asked first, respondents rated 6 (the highest rating and representing Very Important) for more than one value subsequently. Hence the analysis of values were done using ratings of the individual values. A correlation analysis of the measures of gift and card giving derived earlier (F1 to F7) versus the values was done and results shown in Table 3.

TABLE 2

CORRELATION OF GIFT AND CARD MEASURES

We see that those who rated Warm Relationship with Others highly tended to give more gifts and cards, expended more effort and perceived themselves as better communicators. This is consistent with prior studies by Beatty (1991). However, unlike prior studies, our research shows that those rating Security and Fun & Enjoyment also perceived themselves as giving more gifts. Also, those rating A Sense of Accomplishment highly, seem to expend more effort into giving both cards and gifts.

Those who perceived themselves as good communicators seemed to value Sense of Belonging, Being Well Respected and Security the most. They also value Warm Relationships and Fun and Enjoyment to some extent. Surprisingly, those who valued Fun & Enjoyment of Life seemed to be strong on Reciprocity. It was noticed that Warm Relationship with Others was strongly correlated with Fun and Enjoyment (r=0.249, p=0.004) which may explain why this value seem to be related to gift and card giving measures. Finally, those who preferred practical gifts did not value Warm Relationship with Others and Being Well-Respected highly.

Does gender make a difference in terms of gift and greeting card giving behavior? An ANOVA was done with gift and greeting card measures as dependent variables and gender as the independent variable. Although there was no significant difference between men and women regarding effort involved and reciprocity for both gift and card giving, women perceived themselves as giving more cards as shown in Table 4 (significant at the 0.05 level). Women also seemed to prefer keeping gifts and cards as mementos. GiftAmt was not significantly related to gender (F=3.79 & p=0.054).

However, an ANOVA done on reported amounts of total gifts and cards given and received during the last year yielded a different result. Women seemed to report giving and receiving more gifts whereas the relationship for cards was not significant (Table 5). The other demographic variables (number of siblings, income, religion, age-group) did not yield significant results.

We next examined the various occasions for which gifts and cards were given and received. This is reported in Table 6. Birthday was the most popular occasion for giving and receiving gifts. Christmas/ New Year season seemed to be the next most popular occasion for exchanging gifts while for cards it is most popular occasion. Cards and gifts exchanged during the Chinese New Year were lower. Perhaps, this is due to the fact that the Chinese New Year is celebrated in a traditional way and mostly with family. Cards are probably sent out by older people (respondents' parents for example) to relatives. Also, gifts of cash are generally given by the older relatives to the younger and may not have been reported. Also, our sample consisting of non-earning students are probably not expected to give any gifts at this time. Interestingly, although only 29.29% of the sample reported as being Christians (all denominations), more gifts and cards seem to be exchanged at Christmas time compared to those during other festivals. One reason for this could be that Christmas/ New Year is increasingly celebrated as a secular festival. This festival season is also used as a marketing tool to extend winter festivities for over a month before the lunar or Chinese New Year (Erbaugh 1999).

Less than 4% of the sample reported giving cards or gifts for Hari Raya or Deepavali, which are two major festivals celebrated by the other ethnic groups. Valentine's day does not appear to be as big a gift or card oriented occasion as in the U.S. Also, none of the respondents mentioned giving cards for Mothers Day. Clearly, the greeting card has not reached its maturity in Singapore as in the U.S as many occasions for sending a card have yet to be "exploited."

TABLE 3

CORRELATION BETWEEN VALUES AND GIFT/CARD GIVING MEASURES

CONCLUSIONS

This exploratory study has investigated the modern ritual of giving greeting cards in addition to gift-giving among young Chinese Singaporeans. The study has extended prior research on gift giving by examining its similarity with card giving behavior. New measures of gift / card giving are developed such as perceived ability to communicate with friends and family, reciprocity, preference for practical gifts and for storing gifts/ cards as mementos.

We found that overall for the sample under consideration, a card was considered as somewhat of a gift. One reason why cards could be considered as a gift by this group, is that card-giving has not yet become a part of their work-related or familial obligations. We also noticed that occasions for sending a card have not been developed to the extent it has been in the U.S. Thus a novelty factor still exists for cards. Also, a card may still be considered expensive for this group of non-working students. This may also explain why reciprocity level for cards was also significant overall. Although, overall, cards were considered at least as somewhat of a gift and treasured as mementos, there were some people who preferred practical gifts and did not value cards as gifts.

The study also showed that those who felt they communicated better with others tended to give more cards. If a person feels she is a good communicator, why is a card necessary? Perhaps a card serves as a symbolic gift in addition to being a vehicle for explicit verbal communication (Ruth 1996). Since cards are mostly exchanged among friends for our sample, it is more likely that they are given to confirm friendship, love or other sentiments rather than to express difficult to deliver face-to-face messages.

The various measures of cards/gifts and their relationship to values in the LOV scale were not all consistent with results from prior studies (Beatty 1991, 1996). As in earlier studies, those endorsing Warm Relationship with Others and Self-Respect perceived that they gave more gifts. However, in our study, even those who endorsed Fun & Enjoyment perceived they gave more gifts. It is likely that for our sample, Fun & Enjoyment has a different meaning and may be associated with people oriented activities.

The study being exploratory in nature has limitations. A larger sample size and also including people of Malay and Indian ethnic origins would help us understand whether there are some generalizations that can be drawn for people of a specific nationality. Comparison with a U.S sample might help us understand differences in card giving behavior not only among nationalities, but also among people who experience different stages of this product's life cycle.

TABLE 4

GENDER AND GIFT AND CARD GIVING MEASURES

TABLE 5

GENDER AND REPORTED NUMBER OF GIFTS GIVEN & RECEIVED

TABLE 6

AVERAGE NUMBER OF GIFTS AND CARDS GIVEN & RECEIVED BY OCCASION

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----------------------------------------

Authors

Saroja Subrahmanyan, National University of Singapore, Singapore



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 1999



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