Deborah Y. Cohn, New York Institute of Technology – Bad Gift Giving

We’ve all received a bad gift or two in our time.

Deborah Y. Cohn, associate professor of marketing at the New York Institute of Technology, breaks down why someone would give without an aim to please the recipient.

Deborah Y. Cohn’s research topics include diffusion of innovation theory, green marketing strategy, consumer perceptions, and consumer gift giving.  Her research employs a variety of qualitative methods, most notably the new method of netnography.  She has published in the Journal of Business Research, International Journal of Business Research, and International Journal of Internet Marketing and Advertising, among others.  In addition, she acts as a reviewer for the prestigious Journal of Business Research.

Cohn is a member of the NYIT Biomedical and Health Sciences Research (BHS) Institutional Review Board (IRB) for the Protection of Human Subjects in Research. In addition, she serves on the Academic Senate and its Curriculum, Educational Technology, and Institutional Development Committees.  Furthermore, she served on the 2030 Steering Committee for the review and updating of NYIT’s 2030 Strategic Plan (2015). As director of professional enrichment on NYIT’s New York campuses, she provides programming that helps students prepare for their careers.

Cohn earned her Ph.D. in marketing from City University of New York in 1997, and an M.B.A. from NYIT in 1989. Her prior academic degrees in marketing and business and interdisciplinary studies of religion support a strong and diverse set of educational experiences that enhance opportunities to strengthen existing academic programs and potentially span multiple cultures.

Bad Gift Giving



U.S. consumers spent 626 billion dollars during a recent gift-giving season, and gifts returned to stores that season totaled 63 billion dollars, or about ten percent. The proportion of returns reflects a lot of unsatisfactory gifts.

According to my research on what people complain about when they complain about gifts, many bad gifts are given intentionally by people who don’t care about pleasing the recipient. Retailers, for the sake of their brands and their profits, ought to create positive experiences from the bad gifts people receive.

Prior gift research has assumed that bad gifts are mistakes, but I’ve identified five categories of gift-giving in which the giver does not aim to please:

  1. gifts that threaten the recipient’s self-concept, such as giving a pregnancy test to your childless daughter-in-law
  2. gifts that mainly benefit the giver, such as a sports fan who gives his wife a big-screen television
  3. gifts explicitly meant to offend, which indicate a deteriorating relationship
  4. gifts given out of obligation, when you don’t know what the recipient would want—or even who the recipient will be; and
  5. gifts given to allow the giver to brag or “outgift” someone else, such as when grandparents overdo it to impress the grandchildren

Facing this challenge, marketers and retailers can employ seasonal “gift experts” to counsel shoppers before they buy. They can also mitigate negative feelings by providing an easy and rewarding way to donate bad gifts to charity. The marketing ideal is no bad gifts at all, but if people end up getting a dud, at least they can have a good experience at the store.

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