Shoppers report that 39% of their holiday gift-purchases are for someone “picky.” However, despite the ubiquity of shopping for picky people, little research has examined how people choose gifts for picky people. In the present research, we define the “picky gift recipient” as someone perceived to have narrow and unpredictable preferences, and we show how shopping for someone picky alters gift giving behavior. We find that although gift giving norms prescribe that gift givers spend effort, time, and money on gifts to strengthen their social ties, an exception to this rule occurs when a gift recipient is picky. When shopping for someone picky, givers believe that increasing their resources on a gift will not result in greater recipient-satisfaction with the gift itself—a lay belief that ultimately demotivates givers, causing them to spend fewer resources on picky people (even picky friends). That said, we find that consumers are more willing to spend money on superficial gift-features for picky people, such as professional wrapping, to “dress up” their gifts. Based on this preference, we developed and tested a novel promotion strategy that retailers could implement to recoup some of the lost spending by consumers who are shopping for picky people. In all, this research contributes to the literature on gift giving dynamics, and provides insights more broadly into how shoppers negotiate the burden of shopping for someone whom they anticipate will not like their choice.
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