A ‘personalised’ gift experience


This is a hilarious marketing scam thought up by a UK retailer, employing forklift drivers to wrap shoppers Christmas presents for the look of authenticity. In the first week 500 people paid the  £3.95 for service. Hopefully this is proof that I’m on the right track with my personalised gift experience! See the full article below:



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The Experience Economy

This is a business theory that I have just come across and thought it could be interesting to explore in relation to the gift as an experience and giving/sharing time rather that products.

classifying_experiences pdf


The term Experience Economy is first described in a book written in 1999 by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, titled “The Experience Economy”. In it they describe the experience economy, as a next economy following the agrarian economy, the industrial economy and the most recent service economy. This concept has been previously researched by many other authors (see History of the Concept). Businesses must orchestrate memorable events for their customers, they argue, and that memory itself becomes the product – the “experience”. More advanced experience businesses can begin charging for the value of the “transformation” that an experience offers, e.g. as education offerings might do if they were able to participate in the value that is created by the educated individual. This, they argue, is a natural progression in the value added by the business over and above its inputs [1]. Although the concept of the experience economy was born in the business field, it has crossed its frontiers to tourism, architecture, nursing, urban planners and other fields. Experience economy is also considered as main underpinning for customer experience management.

This customer behavior in the society has been acknowledged by various authors. An early example is the book of Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, which Pine and Gilmore quote in their work. In 1971, Toffler criticized how “economists have great difficulty imaging alternatives to communism and capitalism”, and how they could only envision the economy in the terms of scarcity of resources. He talked about the upcoming “experiential industry”, in which people in the “future”, would be willing to allocate high percentages of their salaries to live amazing experiences. Later in 1982, Holbrook and Hirschman’s pioneering article discussed emotional experiences linked to products and services. In 1993, German sociologist Schulze argued for the idea of the “experience society”. In 1999, it was published at the same time a twin book of “The Experience Economy”, that is The Dream Society by Rolf Jensen of the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies, containing many of the same ideas.[2]. (0http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experience_Economy)

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Signs and Symbols

‘Symbolic Communication Among Consumers in Self-Consumption and Gift Giving: A Semiotic Approach’, Anil Pandya, Northeasteen Illinois University, Chicargo, A. Venkatesh, University of California 1992.

Literature review extract – “The empirical research on gift purchase describes it as a complex social activity, a form of expressive consumer behaviour for communicating feelings, gratitude, emotions and closeness or distance in relationships. Gift selections depens on the giver’s ideal self – concept, the nature of the occasion and the relationship to the recipient”.

This is interesting research as it refers to the gift as communication while analysing the areas of:

  • Gift giving and receiving in consumer behaviour literature.
  • Gift giving as communication in a reciprocal exchange network.
  • Gifts as symbols
  • Self gift
  • Obligatory gift as a sign

In the context of this research the symbol of a gift relates to a metaphoric meaning and users self-reports of experiences to illustrate; e.g. a child feeling sorry for the mother in a poverty striken family over a second hand gift – the situation demonstrates that the relationship has more meaning than the gift.

The authors relate an obligatory gift as a sign because it is a gesture of social mannerism and therefore a sign of unauthenticity. A respondent echoing this sentiment: “although I enjoy giving gifts on birthdays and other occasions, I much prefer giving something when it is not expected”.

This raises an interesting point about the obligation rather than desire that is felt when purchasing gifts on occassions when it is socially expected.

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Experiences as gifts


‘Experience as gifts: from process to model’, Jackie Clarke, The Business School, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK 2007.

Literature review extract –

This is an interesting research paper to analyse for my project as not only is it on my topic area, it also employs design methodologies and approaches that align with my research. These include qualitative methods of depth interviews, self completion written documents, telephone interviews, and industry expert perspectives. When referring to ‘experience gift’ the researchers are focusing on current commercial companies which offer packages such as a hot air balloon flight, or a day spa experience. They also refer to ‘hand-crafted’, meaning an experience created by the donor such as organising a country drive and picnic .

The author claims that the area of experience as gift, has mostly been ignored by literature thus far. “The model of experience gift giving behaviour is rooted in the empirical evidence and is based around three broad stages, the decision -making process, exchange, and post exchange/consumption/post consumption.” This points out the importance of employing social research and analytical methods such as focus groups.

Also relevant to my research are the “insights into an important phenomenon in wealthy Western societies where time is held at premium and where personal values are shifting away from status gained through material possession.” This appreciation of ‘giving time’ in our modern multitasking society, is an underlying theme that will run throughout my project.

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The Modern Christmas in America

‘The Modern Christmas in America- A Cultural History of Gift Giving ‘ , William B. Waits.

Literature review extract –

The Modern Christmas in America documents significant changes in the type and meaning of the Christmas gifts Americans exchanged over the last hundred years. During the late 19th century, Americans gave each other handmade gifts, each selected especially for a specific person. Thus gift givers made a strong statement about their perceived personal relationship with gift recipients. With the expansion of the manufacturing sector in the early 20th century, this pattern changed, as many Americans found it easier or more convenient to use manufactured goods as Christmas presents. Waits argues that this shift problematized gift giving, for it seemed to contaminate what was supposed to be a spontaneous outpouring of personal warmth and regard with the cold, impersonal values of the market. In addition, Americans worried that they might choose a wrong or unwanted gift, thereby revealing that their friendships and family relationships were not as close or intimate as they hoped, (Journal of Social History, Winter 1994, Scott C. Martin)

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The spirit of the thing given

The Gift – Forms and functions of Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies’, Marcel Mauss 1969.

Literature review extract:

Mauss studied early societies in Polynesia, Melanesia and North- West America on the existance of different systems of exchange, in particular “presentations which are in theory voluntary, disinterested and spontanious, but are in fact obligatory and interested. the form usually taken is that of the gift generously offered; but the accompaning behaviour is formal pretence and social deception, while the transaction itself is based on obligation and economic self-interest.”

Maori culture and what is deemed the ‘Hau’ (meaning spiritual power) is an interesting example of early object exchange as it refers to the object retaining an element of the giver. The ‘Hau’ is passed on through the exchange of different objects but always retains an element of the original giver and therefore, eventually returns to this person in the form of another object. It is an example of the circle of giving – the obligation to give an the obligation to recieve as a social rule.

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Alternative giving – the charity gift model


Alternative giving is a form of gift giving in which the giver makes a donation to a charitable organization in the recipient’s name, rather than giving an item. The idea of giving something to one person by paying another was invented by Benjamin Franklin as a “trick […] for doing a deal of good with a little money”, which came to be known as “pay it forward.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_giving)

The ‘Oxfam Unwrapped’ charity model is based on making a donation of an item in replacement of a gift to family or friends. The concept is based on giving to help fight poverty rather than just giving another unwanted object.

This model has been criticised as false marketing. On Poverty News Blog the author comments about the fact that the item advertised for purchase is not always where your donation is spent:

“In the same way that “child sponsorship” money is often pooled for general development work, so are many charity “gifts”. When you pay to “give a goat” to Africa, your money does not necessarily pay for a flesh-and-blood animal. Under Christian Aid’s scheme, “gifts” fall into broad categories. A £15 can of worms, billed as “organic, cheap fertiliser for crops”, means £15 for agricultural projects and livestock. A similar system operates at Oxfam Unwrapped, where £10 for “five bags of seeds” could, in fact, pay for planting an allotment or irrigating fields”.

However, on the Oxfam website it is clearly stated that buying an item means that the money will be spent in that area:

“We often get asked – what happens when I buy a goat? Well rest assured, we don’t tie a cape on her and expect her to fly to Mozambique. And it’s the same for the other gifts in the catalogue. Yes, all the gifts are real items we use to help fight poverty, however, when you purchase a gift, your donation will go towards funding programs that your item represents. So for example when you buy gifts such as a calf, cattle manure, seeds, fruit trees, a veggie garden, a goat, bees, H2O harvesting or a duck, you’ll be contributing to our agriculture programs. Or if you purchase safe refuge for women, a well, a clean water filter jar or buckets, food for a child, a bicycle ambulance, a toilet, a farmer’s pack, an orphan care pack, water for a school or support an Indigenous granny group, you will be funding our health programs.To support our education programs, you just need to purchase literacy classes, school fees, school books, crayons and pencils, a “One small bag” drama kit or build a school.When you buy a buffalo, start a small business, a bridge, a piglet, a chicken, sewing training, save a river, a toolkit for a builder or build a house, you’ll be helping fund programs that give people a livelihood.Or you can help Oxfam act quickly in times of emergency by buying a mosquito net, cooking sets, a donkey, a watsan kit or a tent. Anyway you look at it, the donation from your gift will go where it’s needed most, and you’ll have helped save the world from another unwanted gift.” Oxfam Unwrapped

I find it interesting that this model is so successful because it bases the donation on an actual object so that the person feels like they are actually purchasing something rather than just handing over money. Lot’s of my friends who are struggling students have donated on Oxfam Unwrapped as it is a one off expense, that would otherwise have to be spent on a conventional gift item, and is not as daunting as committing to a long term charity donation plan.

Below are more links to charities who use the gift item model.

Good Gifts

Intelligent Giving

Alternative Gifts International

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