Thanks But No Thanks: Rejection, Possession and Disposition of the Failed Gift (Abstract)


Margaret Rucker, Tamara Balch, Fiona Higham, and Kimberly Schenter (1992) ,"Thanks But No Thanks: Rejection, Possession and Disposition of the Failed Gift (Abstract)", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, eds. John F. Sherry, Jr. and Brian Sternthal, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 488.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, 1992      Page 488


Margaret Rucker, University of California, Davis

Tamara Balch, University of California, Davis

Fiona Higham, University of California, Davis

Kimberly Schenter, University of California, Davis

As illustrated in the model constructed by Sherry (1983), the gift giving process may be divided into three stages, namely, gestation, prestation and reformulation. While a good deal of research has been directed at gaining an understanding of the first two stages, little attention has been paid to the third, including disposal of items. In fact, disposition of possessions from any source has been a generally overlooked area with a few notable exceptions (e.g., Belk, Sherry and Wallendorf 1988; Herrmann and Soiffer 1984; Jacoby, Berning and Dietvorst 1977; Soiffer and Herrmann 1987; Young and Wallendorf 1989).

The present study used interview data from 154 subjects to characterize the negative gift exchange experience and determine what actions are taken when the gift is not a wanted item. Gift disposition themes drawn from these interviews were then compared with general disposition themes reported in previous literature.

A classification of gift failures by product type indicated that clothing was mentioned most often as the worst gift received, followed by decorative household objects. The most frequent complaint was wrong style, followed by wrong color and fit. Although most of the complaints about gifts of clothing were directed toward specific attributes of the items, some respondents objected to the general concept of clothing as gift. Clothing was faulted as too utilitarian to be an appropriate gift.

Another classification was by relationship of the giver to the recipient. Three categories were formed, i.e., nuclear family, extended family and nonfamily. Overall, more failed gifts came from nonfamily than either nuclear or extended family members. However, most of this difference could be attributed to respondents in one ethnic category.

Ways in which respondents dealt with unwanted gifts included placing the item in storage, giving it to someone else, returning it to the retailer, and rejecting/returning it to the giver. At the time of the interviews, over 75 percent of the respondents still had the unwanted gifts in their possession. The data provided support for Young and Wallendorf's (1989) "Transition to Disposition" theme in that several respondents seemed to evaluate their connectedness to the giver and the gift before making a decision to transfer the items out of their inventory. There was also evidence for the "Disposition as Communication" theme. Some respondents noted that disposal could communicate disrespect for the giver whereas others worried about how passing along an undesirable gift would reflect on their own taste level.

Not being able to identify the store where the gift was purchased or not being located close to it were major impediments to exchanging an item for something else. In addition, respondents seemed to set a value below which going to a store was not worth the effort.

Respondents who did take their unwanted gifts back to the store mentioned several problems encountered in using this method of dealing with the items. As Corrigan (1989) found in his study of product distribution patterns, the site from which the gift was selected, as well as the gift itself, may be unacceptable to the recipient. Even if the store was considered to be an acceptable place to shop, inventories were generally low following a holiday, making it difficult to find a suitable replacement for the returned item. Several strategies are proposed to facilitate the gift return process for both the recipient and the retailer, including the establishment of some type of gift exchange clearing house.


Belk, Russell W., John F. Sherry, Jr., and Melanie Wallendorf (1988), "A Naturalistic Inquiry into Buyer and Seller Behavior at a Swap Meet," Journal of Consumer Research, 14, 449-470.

Corrigan, Peter (1989), "Gender and the Gift: The Case of the Family Clothing Economy," Sociology, 23(4), 513-534.

Herrmann, Gretchen M. and Stephen M. Soiffer (1984), "For Fun and Profit: An Analysis of the American Garage Sale," Urban Life, 12(4), 397-421.

Jacoby, Jacob, Carol K. Berning and Thomas F. Dietvorst (1977), "What About Disposition?", Journal of Marketing, 41, 22-28.

Sherry, John F., Jr. (1983), "Gift Giving in Anthropological Perspective," Journal of Consumer Research, 10, 157-168.

Soiffer, Stephen M. and Gretchen M. Herrmann (1987), "Visions of Power: Ideology and Practice in the American Garage Sale," The Sociological Review, 35, 48-83.

Young, Melissa Martin and Melanie Wallendorf (1989), "Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust: Conceptualizing Consumer Disposition of Possessions, Proceedings, Educators' Conference, American Marketing Association.



Margaret Rucker, University of California, Davis
Tamara Balch, University of California, Davis
Fiona Higham, University of California, Davis
Kimberly Schenter, University of California, Davis


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19 | 1992

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