When consumers prefer to give material gifts instead of experiences: The role of social distance

Joseph K. Goodman, Sarah Lim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although previous research suggests that there are hedonic and interpersonal benefits to gifting experiences, consumers often give material gifts rather than experiential gifts. Exploring this mismatch, the current research examines when and why consumers prefer to give material versus experiential gifts. The authors propose that gift givers are more likely to give experiential gifts to socially close recipients than socially distant recipients. Since experiences are perceived as more unique than material goods, givers perceive that choosing an experiential gift requires more specific knowledge of a recipient's preferences to avoid the greater social risk of giving a poorly matched gift. Eight studies provide converging evidence for the proposed effect of social distance on gift preference and demonstrate that this effect is driven by a giver's knowledge of a recipient's preferences. Further supporting the mechanism of preference knowledge, the effect of social distance is moderated by the social risk associated with experiential gifts. When experiences contain little social risk-and thus require less knowledge of a recipient- the effect of social distance is significantly mitigated. Together, these results provide answers for why consumers often prefer to give material gifts over experiences, despite the advantage of giving experiences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)365-382
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Consumer Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Experiential advantage
  • Gift giving
  • Material and experiential consumption
  • Social distance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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