Ah, the holidays. The time of year when you string up lights, spend time with the family, and fastidiously calculate how much money you’ll potentially waste on your loved ones if you set too high a gift-giving expectation.
Yes, a new study has found that when people are given an expensive, high-end gift (specifically, designer items), they tend to spend more money to make that gift feel at home by buying other expensive items.
Here’s lead researcher Professor Vanessa Patrick’s expert statement:
We buy something we really like—after all, what could be so wrong in purchasing a cute purple sweater or a unique little side table for the hallway?
But we take it home and that’s when it happens—these items become really hard to give up. So we buy more. And before we know it, we have purchased matching necklaces, shoes, and bags to go with the purple sweater or paintings, new wallpaper and new lighting to accommodate the unique side table.
The study spanned three years and focused specifically on home and clothing items like shoes, jewelry, and furniture. Participants were given “designer gifts” that were considered to have “high aesthetic elements.” After some time, they were offered the chance to return the item in exchange for cash.
The results? Most people opted to keep the item and buy more items that would match the gift in style and expense.
OK. We get that this has minor relevance to retailers who could use the research to bolster their marketing techniques. But it seems a bit like old news.
“Just look at how many products are sold as a set. You very rarely see a necklace sold without the matching earrings and bracelet,” said retail consultant Neil Saunders. “The homeware retailers now frequently display their products as part of a ‘room set’ so you can see how to buy into the whole look. And more and more clothing retailers also sell garments as part of a whole look, rather than individually.”
But here’s the best part. Whom does this research really benefit (according to the study’s authors)? Why, gift-buying husbands, of course. Here’s co-author of the study, Professor Henrik Hagtvedt:
This is something husbands might want to ask themselves when they are in the shop. How salient is the design element. If he buys a pair of shoes, and his wife has no matching dress, will he have to go and buy the dress, and then the belt? You can so easily go out and buy a small item but before long it turns into a spending spree.