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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — If you’re worried about picking the perfect gift this holiday season, an Indiana University professor has some advice to help you out.

Kelley School of Business Assistant Professor of Marketing Elanor Williams co-authored a study called “Why Certain Gifts Are Great to Give, but Not to Get: A Framework for Understanding Errors in Gift Giving,” along with two professors at Carnegie Mellon University.

“The pressure is so high,” Williams said of gift giving.

That’s why Felicia Kiesel, who owns Boomerang Boutique on Mass Ave in Indianapolis, aims for the fun and unique in her store. She knows many customers will show up this time of year looking for the perfect gift.

“When someone sees an item, they definitely think of someone that would appreciate that item,” Kiesel said.

How do you find that perfect gift, though?

Williams said it’s all about changing your perspective.

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that everybody does it wrong, but I would say that most people could do it better,” Williams said. “People have a hard time getting out of their own head, especially as a gift giver.”

She said too many of us think of the moment a person will open their gift, instead of what they’ll do with it afterwards. Plus, we all want to get a good reaction and to look like a good gifter.

“Thinking more like the person thinks about themselves, rather than thinking about them through your own eyes, is a hard thing to do, but it’s the best way to get to what they really would like,” Williams said.

She also said you shouldn’t be afraid to go with the more boring option.

“People appreciate useful gifts more than givers expect them to,” Williams said.

The same goes for expense: there’s no need to dazzle, Williams said, when something small could go a long way.

“It turns out that surprising gifts are risky gifts, and so you won’t always hit the mark,” Williams said.

That could be why Kiesel is selling as much of the practical as she is of the fun – one of her biggest items this season has been ‘blanket’-style scarves.

“I do think, when I’m doing my purchasing, what’s trendy right now, what are people into, what’s going to make a great gift?” Kiesel said.

Here are more suggestions that come from Williams’ paper:

  • “Gifts don’t need to be tangible. Often recipients get more pleasure from experiential gifts, such as tickets to a sporting event, a nice dinner out or a massage. While the gift giver may shy away from giving something that can’t immediately be used or appreciated, experiential gifts actually can be preferred by recipients…”
  • “Research advises against giving socially responsible gifts, such as donations to a charity in the recipient’s name, which provide little value to the recipient later, especially if one’s relationship to the recipient is not that close.”
  • “Gift cards have become popular among both givers and recipients. The paper suggests that while givers may try to tailor the gift by giving a card to a recipient’s favorite store, it may be preferable to give a more versatile Visa gift card that can be used anywhere and potentially fill a wider variety of the recipient’s wants and needs.”
  • “It’s often best to stick to gift registries and other pre-constructed lists, rather than give something that hasn’t been suggested to elicit a surprise.”