"Keep Your Gift Wrapping Under Wraps" – Short Research Story for University of Miami School of Business

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By Lauren Comander

If you’re feeling pressure to step up your gift wrapping as the holidays near, then wrap your mind around findings by Uzma Khan, associate professor of marketing at the School. Drop the bows and the carefully crafted corners and keep things simple, she says, or you’ll be setting the gift recipient up for disappointment. 

“People believe that wrapping a gift is a good thing, and it features very prominently in holiday traditions,” Khan says. "They think the recipient will appreciate the time, money and creativity that goes into wrapping a gift, but it’s just the opposite.” Instead, the fancier-looking the gift wrap, the higher the expectations for the gift – which almost always leads to disappointment. “If you raise expectations about what’s inside with fancy wrapping, the recipient will feel disappointed,” she says. “Is my mother going to think I’m giving her a diamond pendant just because it’s wrapped in Tiffany colors? Probably, but people don’t think about it – they just think they wrapped it nicely.”

The gift-wrapping industry is a robust one, with consumers spending billions annually on wrapping paper and embellishments, Khan says. But Khan’s findings put a wrinkle in the instinct to tie it with a pretty bow. So what’s a gift-giver to do? Khan recommends using simple and unexciting wrappings. “For example, a recipient is likely to be much happier and like the gift a lot better if it’s in simple brown wrapping," she says. 

Khan’s findings, which earned her a 2017 UM Provost’s Research Award, come with one caveat: “When a gift is something really good, good wrapping does not hurt, since the high expectations set by the fancy wrapping are likely to be met. However, people are generally very bad at predicting what someone will like,” says Khan, an expert in consumer behavior. Hence “the safe bet is to not invest so much time and effort in that fancy wrapping,” she says.

Fall 2017 BusinessMiami magazine