The Inefficiency and Waste in Gift Giving

Every year, we go through the same gift-exchanging scenarios. As gift-givers, we obsess over the task of finding the perfect gift. As receivers, we have to pretend to like the items we get. After that, we stress-out about the thought that we have to find room in our homes for what could be a lot of unwanted gifts. In the end, the gift-exchange process is a lose-lose situation.

Unwanted Gifts Don’t Make it Back to the North Pole

According to a survey by Pureprofile, Americans throw away $16 billion worth of unwanted gifts during Christmas. Even if Americans are big fans of the holiday season, they don’t share the same excitement about the gifts they receive. One in two people dislikes at least one of the gifts from under their tree. Moreover, failed gifts can be quite expensive. The average cost of an unwanted present is $49.95. So out of three people you buy a gift for, chances are one of them will not like it and even throw it away!

According to a recent survey by Ziffit, UK households prepare for the holiday season by clearing 66 million bags of unwanted stuff. Despite this purge, two-thirds of people expect to receive more unwanted gifts that they will ever use. The numbers indicate that Brits receive 81 million unwanted presents every year. A household receives an average of three undesirable gifts and one of these will end up in the landfill. Imagine all that time, effort, and materials put into the manufacturing of these items going to waste!

At WishSlate, we aim to try and reduce this waste by helping you find and gift more of what your loved ones want. Some unwanted gifts are donated, re-gifted, sold or just politely kept, but many of them eventually end up in a landfill.

Unwanted gifts after Christmas

How can we avoid getting unwanted gifts?

Remember when you were a kid and you would see that one toy that made your heart beat faster? Did it ever happen that instead of the toy you loved and longed for you would unpack another one, maybe even a more expensive one? The disappointment was immense. As we come into adulthood, things stay pretty much the same.

The issue is that we prefer to get exactly what we want, however, we wrongly assume other people want to receive thoughtful gifts. We believe that we are capable of finding a great gift.  In fact, we want to prove how well we know the receiver, so we find something we believe will be liked. However, in contrast, we assume that other people aren’t capable of doing the same for us. It might come as a surprise, but the reality is people don’t like surprises!  Researchers from Harvard and Stanford conducted a series of experiments and discovered that receivers perceive gifts they explicitly asked for as being more thoughtful.  Read our blog on Give them what they want for more on this.

Can we break the cycle to reduce gifts we don’t want

New research brings to light the fact that gift-giving is a losing game played by both giver and recipient. It starts when the recipient doesn’t express feelings of disappointment with an unwanted gift. The giver wrongly assumes that the gift is a hit and the receiver is satisfied with it (Mauss, 1925). This cycle repeats itself every year and we continuously shelve gifts, re-gift, put in storage or just throw them away. Who wants a book they’ve already read or an expensive box of chocolates when they’re on a diet? Ah, sweet temptation!  New studies focus mainly on the inefficiency in gift-giving, but the idea that gifts destroy value has been around for more than 20 years.  Unwanted gifts are a waste of valuable resources that destroy value.   This means that the giver pays more for the same gift than the receiver ever would be willing to spend.

Buy things that have been explicitly suggested.  This is a win-win scenario.  Recipients enjoy the item they wanted and consider gift-givers as being more thoughtful for getting exactly what they hoped to get.  We love this new idea, as it simplifies everyone’s life and makes the whole process more environmentally-friendly. Apps such as WishSlate address the issues modern society is confronting with creative solutions.  We need this in our world today.

Study proves receivers prefer what they want

Receivers prefer to get something they want even with the loss of surprise.  This is proven by the study mentioned above..   Read more at Give them what they want.  To reduce waste further there are other gifting options also that don’t create more stuff in peoples houses, for example digital subscriptions that we wrote about in our blog on Best Subscription Services to Gift.


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Survey by Ziffit, Brits throw 66 million of unwanted bags to prepare for the holiday season.

Study by Stanford and Harvard on how receivers like explicitness in gift-giving.

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