Connected but isolated: Experts say that more people just want to give birthday gifts online rather than seeing them in person
04/21/2018 // Frances Bloomfield // Views

In recent years, the Internet has morphed into a platform where people can do just about anything. One of these, according to a recent study, is the act of gift-giving. More people are now engaging in online gift-giving, or the giving of gifts through social networks. This phenomenon has become so prevalent that the researchers behind the study believe that half of the gifts given would not have been received by the giftee if it were done offline or through other means.

To come to this conclusion, the investigative team kept track of the gift-giving behavior of U.S. adults on Facebook during 2013. One notable feature of the site is that it issues users reminders of their friends’ birthdays. From there, users have the option of sending their friend an online gift through Facebook Gifts. This now-defunct app once allowed users to give their friends items like gift cards for Starbucks, iTunes, and The Cheesecake Factory. The researchers correlated their data with additional surveys and came up with some surprising results.

They discovered that Facebook users who received gifts on Facebook for their birthday were 56 percent more likely also to send an online gift through the site. With that, the researchers estimated that about a third of all gifts sent via Facebook after users’ birthdays were sent by users who had been gifted in the first place.

Lead researcher René Kizilcec, Cornell University assistant professor of information science, explained: "We found substantial evidence of social influence driving gift-giving behavior. This boost in online gifts was not just the result of substitution away from offline gifts; but rather, it appears that receiving online gifts inspires people to give more gifts overall."


Additionally, three-fourths of the gift-givers on Facebook stated that the user previously gifted them. However, only 11 percent of recipients said that they directly reciprocated these gifts through the site.

"It initially appeared as if online gifting was spreading on Facebook by paying forward acts of kindness. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that there is a broader network of gift exchanges, and these acts of reciprocity seamlessly transcend the online and offline worlds," said Kizilcec.

He added: "We found that 58 percent of givers said they would still have given that person a gift without Facebook, but 42 percent reported that it would have been more difficult. This indicates that some Facebook gifts were substitutes for gifts given through other channels, while other Facebook gifts were incremental, this is, they would not have occurred otherwise."

Interestingly, the majority of gift-giving was done by people between 45 and 64 years of age. Kizilcec noted that users in this age group sent gifts to their peers as well as people from younger generations. As such, they had the highest gift-giving levels on Facebook. By contrast, younger users or millennials gave out fewer gifts but were more likely to do so after receiving them through the site.

Based on their findings, Kizilcec concluded that people quickly internalized the social norms of online gift-giving. Specifically, the users who witnessed their friends sending gifts through the Internet were more likely to perceive it as the norm, especially when compared to people who'd discovered the practice through other ways.

But of course, nothing beats giving gifts in person. It may not be as convenient as sending a gift online, but going through the all the effort will be more meaningful to the other person. And if you want to take your gift-giving to the next level, aim to give gifts that provide value over time. As per, the perfect gift isn’t one that offers immediate pleasure. It’s the one that you know the gift recipient will be able to use in the long term. (Related: Five toxic holiday gifts you should never buy a loved one for Christmas)

Visit to read up on more stories on human psychology.

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