They say appearances can deceive. In the case of gift-giving, they might be right.

Wrapping gifts is a huge business. Consumers spend billions each year to make themselves look their best. This includes paper, ribbons, bows, and boxes.

Some people are skilled in gift-wrapping with perfectly folded ribbons and bows. Others are less skilled and prefer to clean dishes or the house.

It was worth it for me and two of my colleagues to discuss. It is possible to make a gift more appreciated by giving it a beautiful presentation. Or is it the other way around?

Sloppy versus neat

Three experiments were performed to determine the effect of gift wrapping on a 2019 paper from the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

For the first experiment, we recruited 180 students from universities. They would participate in a research project described as an “extra credit exercise.” As a token of appreciation, each student received a gift on arrival.

Randomly, the gift was a coffee cup with the Miami Heat logo or the Orlando Magic rival. We knew from an earlier survey that everyone was a Heat fan. We also knew they didn’t support Magic. This was done so that half the students got something they wanted and half got something they didn’t like.

Half of the gifts were wrapped neatly, while the rest looked sloppy.

Participants were asked to rate the gift’s value after unwrapped. Participants liked the gift more when it was poorly wrapped than those who received a nicer gift.

How do you manage your expectations?

Another group of students was asked to help us understand. Before we could see what the gift contained, they were shown a photo of a gift that was either well wrapped or poorly wrapped. We then asked them to share their thoughts.

Participants were asked to imagine opening the present. Each participant received a pair of JVC earbuds. It was also important that they rate their feelings towards the present. We could see if the expectations were met.

Results showed that people expected neatly wrapped gifts to be more popular than gifts wrapped in a hurry. Participants who received the neatly wrapped gift said it didn’t meet their expectations. However, participants who received the gift with poor wrapping stated that it exceeded their expectations.

People consider the wrapping to be an indicator of the quality of the gift. If the wrapping is neat, it sets a high standard of gift quality and indicates that it will be a quality present. On the other hand, poor wrapping sets low expectations and indicates that it will not be a good gift.

Poorly wrapped gifts can be a pleasant surprise, while neatly wrapped ones can bring you disappointment.

Friends versus acquaintances

The third and final experiment was designed to see if the effect is dependent on the relationship between gift-givers, recipients and both. Does it matter if the gift-givers are friends or strangers?

Surveying a nationally representative sample of 261 adults, the participants were asked to picture themselves at a private party that included a gift exchange. Randomly, participants were shown images of gift wraps. They were asked to picture receiving a neatly wrapped gift or a messy one. The task was divided between them. The task was split so half of the participants could imagine the gift coming from a friend and half from an acquaintance. The gift was then shown to the participants, who were asked their opinions.

Gifts given by friends are more appreciated than gifts that were poorly wrapped. Similar to previous experiments. The recipient more appreciated the gift if it came to them from an acquaintance than a close friend. This is because recipients used the wrapping to express how much they valued their relationship rather than the contents. The gift-giver should neatly wrap the gift to show they value their relationship.

It was a pleasant surprise.

Don’t stress about wrapping holiday gifts this year.

When you give a gift to someone you don’t know well, like a colleague at work or a friend, it’s worth showing that you put some effort into it with neat folds, crisp edges, and clean lines.

These are my priorities. I won’t rush to wrap gifts for my wife, so she is always happy.

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