The Psychology Behind Gift Card Giving, Part Three

The following is part three of a four part series examining the different types of behavior patterns associated with purchasing gift cards, one of the more popular gift giving choices in this country. Read the first part here, and the second part here.

Interestingly, much as gifting is socially regarded as an act of generosity, the motivators actually respond to self-serving interests. They are usually more connected with how they make “us” feel than how we want to make the gift recipient feel, which helps explain the dichotomy between what gift card givers want to give and what recipients want to receive. This may seem like an overly pessimistic point of view, but let me elaborate.

Through gifting, histrionics seek attention, obsessives look for the best deal, psychopaths aim to get their best ROI on the gift, narcissists want to impress themselves and others, phobics fear falling short of expectations, and paranoids mistrust the effects the gift may yield. But more importantly, each group may surprise us in the type of gift card they may select.

Histrionics are the most likely to think less of the need to please themselves and more of what they can possibly do to please others. They are the most likely to give what the recipient wants to get. In this case, they are more likely to deliver a gift card and an open loop Visa gift card at that.

Obsessives will simply look for the most economical option. The gift card will appeal to them because of the ability to choose a low amount gift card. Whichever gift card has the least fees and delivers the most value for their money; that will be their pick.

Paranoids will give what they want in order to protect themselves from any gifting conspiracy. In selecting a gift card, they will not think about the recipient, but will select the gift card that is the least likely to turn around on them.

Narcissists will think little of the recipient and will be more likely to spend a large amount on a “power” gift like an iPad. If selecting a gift card, they will choose a $300 Best Buy gift card even if their friend prefers a $100 Visa gift card. They will feel the need to make a statement with a high value and highly coveted gift card brand, regardless of the recipient’s desire to show themselves and others how “generous” they are.

Phobics are unlikely to deliver a gift card, for fear of falling short of the recipient’s expectations. If selecting a gift card, they will think carefully of the recipient’s needs and brand preference.

Psychopaths will measure it all in ROI. Their action will be a function of what they think they will get in return. Depending on the anticipated ROI – i.e. measured as what they will gain in return – they will unconsciously deliver what they want or what the other person wants most. This ROI will determine whether they pick a gift over a gift card, and if the latter, which type or brand of card.

Of the six groups above, four are more likely to deliver what they (the givers) want to give, while one group will go either way, and one will give what the recipient wants most. This should not be confused with satisfying personal interests vs. the recipient’s interest, as even histrionics, who are likely to deliver what the recipient wants, are in fact looking to satisfy a self interest, the need to please. So all groups ultimately respond to self-interest, even when self interest results in giving what the recipient desires most.

Part four will look at the implications of these different personality traits on marketers, retailers, and card networks. Additionally, the conclusion will look at the future on how these insights relate to the oncoming trend in different payment formats and platforms.


Carlos Tribino is the CMO of GiftCards.com  the leading portal for gift cards online. During his current tenure, GiftCards.com has doubled in traffic and sales over the past two years through a comprehensive digital strategy plan including SEO, PPC, display, social, e-Mail, blogging and PR activities. Previous to GiftCards.com, Carlos served as V.P. Marketing & Recreation for Viacom, where he ran marketing and large scale events for the media giant’s top global brands in the south of Europe: MTV, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central. He was an integral part of the team that launched the 24- hour movie channel Paramount Channel and of the 2010 MTV European Music Awards.

About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, co-founder of Metacademy, and the CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and CNBC and writes a popular daily business blog. He’s the Co-Host of the award-winning podcast Techstream with Shelly Palmer & Seth Everett and his latest book, Blockchain - Cryptocurrency, NFTs & Smart Contracts: An executive guide to the world of decentralized finance, is an Amazon #1 Bestseller. Follow @shellypalmer or visit shellypalmer.com.

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