Consumer Perceptions of Gift-Giving Occasions: Attribute Saliency and Structure

ABSTRACT - The authors attempt to assess consumer attitudes towards two gift-giving occasions. Certain consumer perceptions are found to be common to both occasions; other perceptions are found to differ. The authors conclude that gift-giving is a marketing content area worthy of further examination. A preliminary scale is presented to assist the research process for further investigation of gift-giving behavior.


Stephen P. DeVere, Clifford D. Scott, and William L. Shulby (1983) ,"Consumer Perceptions of Gift-Giving Occasions: Attribute Saliency and Structure", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10, eds. Richard P. Bagozzi and Alice M. Tybout, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 185-190.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10, 1983      Pages 185-190


Stephen P. DeVere, Louisiana State University

Clifford D. Scott, Louisiana State University

William L. Shulby, University of Colorado


The authors attempt to assess consumer attitudes towards two gift-giving occasions. Certain consumer perceptions are found to be common to both occasions; other perceptions are found to differ. The authors conclude that gift-giving is a marketing content area worthy of further examination. A preliminary scale is presented to assist the research process for further investigation of gift-giving behavior.


Although it may be impossible to assess the exact economic importance resulting from the aggregate reciprocity of gift-giving, there is little doubt that gifts, as a purchase category, form an important part of total consumer product sales. Researchers have addressed this content area motivated by the relevance of gift-giving, as indicated above, and by the interesting nature of the complex motivations and symbolism involved with the situationally influenced phenomenon (see Banks, 1977 for a review of the gift-giving literature). Tigert (1978) suggests that a more systematic research treatment of the gift-giving area is necessary in order to heighten the strategic and tactical implications of gift-giving for the marketing manager. Such a methodology is proposed here and this methodology is consistent with Lutz and Kakkar's (1975) call for an approach maintaining a situational perspective in all consumer research.


Gift-giving has been related in two ways to situational perspective in past research designs. First, Belk (1973), Bearden and Woodside (1977) and others have used gift-giving as the primary variable of interest . Second, a group of researchers (i.e., Weigl, 1975; Ryan, 1977) have used gift-giving as a situational variable studied against non-gift buying. The first collection of researchers offer an intra-situation perspective while the second group provides an inter-situation use of the gift-giving perspective. The research presented here maintains the situational perspective exhibited by Belk, Bearden and Woodside and others.

The term "situation" is open to multiple interpretations. Several paradigms have been developed by researchers addressing this problem. Lutz and Kakkar (1975) modified Belk's definition or the situation by incorporating the notion or the "psychological situation." Their modified definition of situation was, " individual's internal responses, or interpretations of, all factors particular to a time and place or observation which are not stable intra-individual characteristics or stable environmental characteristics, and which have a demonstrable and systematic effect on the psychological processes and/or overt behavior." (Lutz and Kakkar 1975). This modification of Belk's definition implies that the meaning (perception) that an individual assigns to a situation affects ultimate behavior (Endler and Magmusson 1976). The psychological situation is that which is perceived, rather than the objective elements of the situation. The key to adding to our knowledge of situational influences upon consumer behavior is to determine the nature of the psychological responses linked to certain objective features of a situation (Belk 1976). These features refer to an event having locus in time and space.

This paper represents an effort to provide a more systematic treatment of the gift-giving phenomenon by conceptually treating it as a marketing content area (Dickson and Albaum 1977) within which to investigate internal responses to objective features of a situation.


The purpose of this research can be stated as follows: to assess the nature and intensity of gift-giving situation attributions toward gift products. The objective of this investigation, then, is to 1) determine if the saliency of gift-product attributes varies with an objective feature of gift-giving, 2) determine the importance and nature of any variation of saliency observed and 3) determine how and if underlying factor structures alter by occasions.

Conclusions will be presented in regard to the efficacy of gift-giving as a content area, as well as the nature of attributional differences. These findings are discussed relative to the marketing manager.


The dependent variable employed in this research was the magnitude to which a respondent sought or avoided the various gift attributes presented to them. These gift attributes, generated by focus group members and by literature search, represented the evaluative criteria potentially used by consumers in their gift choice processes. The use or this dependent variable allowed for the "mapping" of the psychological situation as called for by Kakkar and Lutz (1979).

The independent variable used to create the experimental treatment was the gift-giving occasion. Banks (1977), Belk (1977), Bussey (1967) and others have identified the gift-giving occasion as one of the major objective, situational elements of gift-giving. Cue to the exploratory nature of this research, birthdays and weddings were chosen as the gift-giving occasions to be varied. Other gift-giving occasions, such as Christmas, Mother's Day and Father's Day, may have been used as experimental treatments. These gift-giving occasions are holidays, however, and may be perceived to have a unique social significance by the respondents. In order to reduce the potential for variance induced by different social meanings and to allow for a more careful scrutiny or the sensitivity of the developed scale, holiday gift-giving occasions were eliminated from consideration as potential experimental treatments.

To sum up: the dependent variables represent the psychological (perceived) situation, and the independent variables represent the objective situation. In this way, the present research attempts to "map" the relationship between the two.

Control for the influence of other situational gift area elements was achieved by the use of a stimulus cue given to the respondents. This cue allowed for the specification of the situational variables identified by Belk (1975). Thus, an attempt was made to hold four of the five situational variables constant: physical surroundings, social surroundings, temporal perspective and antecedent states. The only variation allowed in the design was along one element of the gift-giving task; hence, any variation observed in the psychological responses of the respondents may be attributed directly to the difference between the task definitions related to the two gift-giving occasions.


Identification of the consumer's gift choice evaluative criteria was accomplished via a focus group format. Each focus group consisted of six to eight upper-class marketing students selected on a convenience basis. Group moderators used the following questions to guide the discussion:

1) The last time you shopped for a gift, what qualities were you looking for in that gift?

2) Students were instructed to think of a specific relative or friend who might get married in the near future, then asked: What qualities would you look for in this gift?

3) Same as 2, but for a birthday gift.

Exhausting the possibilities generated by these questions generally took about thirty minutes. Next the group moderators probed further by specifically mentioning attributes culled from the available literature. The attributes used were quality, style, guarantee and price. Focus group sessions were held until no new information was generated. This occurred on the sixth session. All focus group sessions were tape recorded. These tape recordings were then subjected to a protocol analysis from which the attributes were derived. Items judged to be redundant were removed by the researchers.


This step in the process of scale development was accomplished through the use of Deese's method (Dickson and Albaum 1977). The list of focus group-generated gift attributes was presented to a convenience sample of undergraduate marketing students. Students were asked to state the antonym of each gift attribute.

Based on these responses, a new list was constructed consisting of the mode response antonym of each attribute. This new list was given to a different convenience sample of undergraduate marketing students. These students were also asked to state the antonym of each attribute. If the mode response here did not match the original attribute, that attribute was eliminated due to the implied ambiguity.


A team of six undergraduate marketing research students were trained in the administration of the instrument. They began the interview by asking the respondent to think of a specific person for whom they might purchase a gift for in the near future. The respondent was asked to supply the potential recipients initials, age, and relation to the respondent. This procedure was followed to increase involvement on the part of the respondents and to provide the stimulus cue.

The next step was the presentation of the instrument itself. The scale consisted of forty-eight staple scales, one for each gift attribute. Staple scales were employed due to their ability to gauge both valance and intensity with a single scale. The interviewers explained the staple scale format to the respondents and then recorded responses to all items.

Data were gathered for the two gift-giving situations, birthdays and weddings. However, any given respondent supplied information on only one gift-giving occasion. The nature of the gift--giving occasion was revealed to the respondent at the beginning of the interview as part of the stimulus cue. The purpose of presenting the respondent with only one gift-giving occasion was to eliminate the possibility that subjects presented with two gift-giving occasions might focus upon and exaggerate differences between the occasions (Nunnally 1978, p 611). In this way, differences in response for the two situations may not be attributed to the demand characteristics of the procedure.

The final sample contained 120 undergraduate and graduate students intercepted on the campus at various times, days and locations. Respondents contained in this final sample were enrolled in either the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Business Administration, or the College of Engineering.


In order to reduce potential coding and keypunching errors, the staple scale responses were converted from -3 to +3 to a t to +7 data code. This yielded a scale with four as a neutral point and distance from four indicating increased saliency. Mean responses lower than four indicate a gift attribute which is avoided.

Table 1 contains all of the gift attributes generated by the research team due to their conceptual relevancy. The mean response for each gift attribute in each of the two experimental conditions is presented in this table. Table 1 also contains an index indicating whether a particular gift attribute was sought by the respondents regardless of the experimental condition, avoided by the respondent regardless of the experimental condition or condition-specific with regard to directionality.

ANOVA was used to test the general null hypothesis:


Several significant differences were found and, therefore, the general null hypothesis was rejected. Those variables showing a significant change across experimental conditions are presented in Table II. The alpha level for this analysis was set at 0.10.




Factor analysis can be used by researchers to identify and label any latent factors which respondents may be employing in the occasion-specific evaluation of gift alternatives (Hair, et al, 1979; Green & Tull 1978; Dickson & Albaum 1977). The principal component factor was used in conjunction with the VARIMAX and PROMAX methods in order to derive the orthogonal and oblique rotations of the factor matrices. A scree tail test was used to identify the optimum number of factors which could be extracted before the amount of unique variance began to dominate the common variance structure (Cattel 1966; Hair, Anderson, Tatham, and Grablowsky 1979). Any item which did not load on a factor at the .40 level was eliminated, as was any item which loaded heavily on more than one factor. This criteria reduced the number of gift attributes analyzed from 48 to 37.

Five factors were extracted from the responses collected in the birthday condition using the criteria described above, which accounted for 61.7% of the common variance via the VARIMAX method (the PROMAX method explained the same amount of variance). Six factors were extracted from the responses collected in the wedding condition which accounted for 56.9% of the common variance via the VARIMAX method (the PROMAX method explained 61.0% of the variance). Table VII presents the orthognally rotated factor loadings of the birthday and wedding conditions. (Factor loadings associated with the oblique rotation are not presented here because of the small differences observed between the two methods. This data can be obtained from the authors upon request).


Across Occasions

A review of the mean responses presented in Table 1 confirms the existence of certain highly salient gift attributes. The receiver's need for the gift (product), the uniqueness, enjoyability, durability, performance, usefulness and the innovativeness of the gift, all prove to be gift attributes highly sought by the respondents regardless of the experimental condition. Gift attributes found to be highly avoided by the respondents regardless of the experimental condition include the lack of desire for the gift (product) exhibited by the receiver, gifts perceived by the giver to be unreliable, products disliked by the receiver's family and friends, gifts exhibiting a lack of taste and thoughtfulness on the part of the giver, gifts perceived to be of low quality, impersonal, or gaudy, products possessing poor perceived brand status, a lack of style and a lack of function. This analysis, therefore, demonstrates that certain gift attributes are highly salient to the gift-giving decision regardless of the gift-giving occasion encountered by the respondent.

Examination of each gift-giving occasion's factor loadings to identify any factors common to the two experimental conditions suggested that there is some degree of similarity in their latent factor structures. These similarities include the collative properties of the gift item itself, and the risk reduction qualities which are augmented product features. The gift attributes possessing arousal potential (Berlyne 1963) load together within each experimental condition. Additionally there exists a factor which might be labeled "risk reducers." In each occasion, this factor contains certain aspects of Roselius' (1971) risk-reducing elements. Although the elemental differences between occasions for this commonly-labeled factor of "risk-reducers" will be discussed below, the identification of factors common to both conditions may be of use to the marketer in understanding consumer gift choice behavior as a class of purchase decision processes.

By Occasion

The use of analysis of variance allows researchers to test the differences among the conditional mean responses of each gift attribute for statistical significance. Thus, it may be found that a particular gift attribute is sought/avoided for all gift-giving occasions but that the degree of saliency is dependent upon the nature of the Rift-Riving occasion.

Significant differences among the conditional mean responses were found to exist on thirteen of the forty-eight gift attributes analyzed (see Table II). One other gift attribute, social acceptability, was found to be marginally significant and, therefore, has been included with the other gift attributes found to contain significant differences.

Two of the gift attributes found to be sought significantly more in the wedding condition than in the birthday condition were presence of government sponsored consumer tests and presence of warranty (see Table II). These gift attributes are risk reducing properties of a product employed by Roselius (1971) in his study of perceived risk. These gift attributes were added to the list of generated gift attributes because it was informally hypothesized that different gift-giving occasions elicit varying degrees of perceived risk from consumers. Thus, it was informally hypothesized that the risk reducing properties of a gift would become more salient to the respondents in the wedding condition due to the reduced frequency of occurrence and the high social visibility associated with the gift-giving behavior. This hypothesis could not be rejected as evidenced by the findings summarized in Table II. The connection between inserting plausible scale items and observed variation on them allows a partial treatment of content validity. Given the symbolic quality of gift-giving, risk would be an expected associative perception. Finding related risk reducing attributions is suggestive that the scale is measuring the right domain of behavior (Nunnally, 1978).

Five related gift attributes were-found to be sought significantly more in the birthday condition than in the wedding condition (see Table II). These gift attributes, innovativeness, imaginativeness, novelty, handmade and spontaneity are similar to one another in that they imply arousal potential. Berlyne (1963) identified qualities of this form as collative properties. These collative properties were generated by the members of the focus groups and their demonstrated significance provides support for Berlyne's premise that these are powerful influences.

Of even more use to the marketer would be identification of factors unique to each gift-giving occasion. While both occasions have an extracted factor labeled "collative properties" the nature and salience of this factor is gift occasion specific (Table Viii, Factor III Birthday; Factor IV Wedding). Thus, the nature of the desirable collative properties alter from the birthday to wedding occasion. In reference to the factors labeled "risk-reducers" (Table VIII, 7 actor V Birthday; Factor V Wedding), the nature of the risk encountered in each experimental condition is evidently perceptually distinct for the respondents.

While the discussion thus far has concentrated on the dimensionality of similarities which exist between the two gift occasions, certain unique factors were found in each of the occasions. The results of the factor analysis demonstrate that in the birthday occasion, there is evidence of what might be labeled a "receiver gender consideration' (Table VIII, Factor II). The gift attributes associated with this factor do not load on any of the factors extracted in the wedding condition.

A unique factor associated with the gift occasion was labeled "practicality/functionality" (Table VIII, Factor II). The identification of these unique factors supports the contention that the consumer perceives certain distinction between gift occasions.

Saliency Structures

Table III and Table IV present the saliency structures of the ten gift attributes sought most in the birthday and wedding conditions, respectively. Seven of the ten gift attributes sought most by respondents were found to be common to both experimental conditions. While this consistency across experimental conditions is apparent, it must be noted that the relative saliency of these gift attributes changes dramatically. Furthermore three different salient gift attributes were found in each experimental condition. These differences must be attributed to the distinctive nature of the two gift-giving occasions

Table-V and Table VI present the saliency structures of the eleven gift attributes avoided most by respondents in the birthday and wedding conditions, respectively. Nine of the eleven gift attributes avoided most by respondents were found to be highly salient across experimental conditions The relative saliency of these gift attributes does not change dramatically between the experimental conditions; hence, avoidance of these gift attributes does not appear to be occasion-specific. Closer scrutiny of the tables reveals very small but perceptible structural differences in the relative saliency of these gift attributes. This slight change must be attributed to the variation of the gift-giving occasions












The results of this research indicate that "gift-giving" is not more a specification of the situation than "personal use." Differences were shown to exist in the psychological situations perceived by respondents exposed to two gift-giving tasks. These differences occurred due to the variation of one of the elements identified in the Rift-giving literature.

Gaining more specification in order to research the process systematically would appear to be assisted by conceiving of gift-giving as a "class" or content area within which dramatic situational influences exist. This is supported by the identification of statistically significant differences in attributions by the developed scale. Researchers might use the scale to further validate the issue of Rift-giving as a content area.

The following categories of results offer assistance for marketers of gift positioned products aimed at student or similar markets:

1) Across Occasions - The existence of gift attributes which are generally sought and/or avoided by consumers regardless of the gift occasion could lead to the development of a check-list of attributes which might prove useful in concept testing a new gift product. Managers could be sure that their offerings possessed those attributes generally sought and did not possess those givers avoided. Given that the factor analysis demonstrates a common collative as well as risk related factor, these general properties should be addressed in gift item product development.

2) By Occasion - It is apparent that consumers are differentially attributing perceptions by gift occasion. For the marketer of wedding associated gift items, part of the communications strategy should be devoted to informing potential buyers of the practicality and/or functionality of the gift product. Conversely, the marketing plan for birthday positioned gifts might make use of the "gender consideration factor" in segmenting markets or audiences.

3) Saliency Structure - Finally, given the subtle structural properties of attribute saliency and factor loadings, the marketer should understand that gift-giving is a complex process that deserves close situational scrutinizing in order for the subsequent marketing strategy to take advantage of situational influence opportunities. Even when a common factor is associated with both gift occasions, the marketer should understand the attribute differences within those factors prior to designing appropriate marketing strategies.


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Upon request, other references provided by Cliff Scott.



Stephen P. DeVere, Louisiana State University
Clifford D. Scott, Louisiana State University
William L. Shulby, University of Colorado


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10 | 1983

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