Toward a Broader Definition of the Gift Industry

Traditionally, the gift industry has limited its domain to purely material goods such as jewelry, home decor, flowers, and fashion items. This definition of the gift industry is unnecessarily limiting and may even represent a missed opportunity to promote the giving of gifts that have been empirically shown to make gift recipients and gift givers happier.

In 2003, researchers Leaf Van Boven and Thomas Gilovich published a frequently cited article on consumer choice & happiness entitled, >To Do or to Have? That Is the Question. The researchers set out to answer the question, "Do experiential purchases make consumers happier than material purchases?" (Spoiler alert: They do.)

Further research on this question applied to gift giving can be found in these two articles:

In their 2003 article, Van Boven and Gilovich describe a spectrum of purchases ranging from purely material to purely experiential. Below are their definitions of each end of the spectrum:

  • Purely Material: Those purchases "made with the primary intention of acquiring a material good: a tangible object that is kept in one’s possession"
  • Purely Experiential: Those purchases "made with the primary intention of acquiring a life experience: an event or series of events that one lives through"

This distinction is helpful for those in the gift industry since many gifts that people love fall somewhere between purely material and purely experiential.

UnWrapIt is on a mission to re-imagine what makes for an appropriate gift on any occasion. To that end, we're proposing an even broader definition of the gift industry that includes the material/experiential spectrum that Van Boven and Gilovich describe but is not limited to it.

As we see it, the five domains of the gift industry are:

  • Material/Experiential
  • Gift Cards
  • Digital Gifts
  • Charitable Gifts
  • Service Gifts

With this broader definition in mind, we're hopeful that virtually any consumer-facing business (or charity) will come to see itself as potentially, or already, in the business of selling gifts.

Toward a Broader Definition of the Gift Industry

Toward a Broader Definition of the Gift Industry


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