Gift Economy – Not That Mug or T-Shirt Please!


We have just strolled past the peak season of gifting. On the one hand,  advertisements served us a bouquet of options to pick gifts from, leaving us tempted at the very least. On the other, almost everyone in the corporate world was struggling to find a gift as a secret Santa while curious about the gift they would receive. Can the Gift Economy suppliers and planners be creative, and thoughtful?

Gift Economy of India

My shelves are filled with gifts – mostly mementos from conferences and seminars I took part in. There are coffee mugs that I end up using as pen stands. T-shirts get distributed according to the size received. The one-off time I get a relevant gift, like a lovely calendar a publisher used to send till the pandemic paused.

Thoughtful Gifts!

Who does not like gifts? That’s the popular belief we grew up on. Childhood birthday parties ended in a treasure hunt kind of gift unwrapping. As we grew old, gifting became a chore, a social norm to follow.

There are enough jokes about recycling gifts with a pound of truth in them. Think of Son Papdi changing hands during Diwali. We are not just unthoughtful while gifting, but we also carry the weight of gifts we cannot use, waiting for the next opportunity to get rid of them, creating a vicious cycle.

Corporate Gifting

Corporate gifting refuses to move ahead from Mugs, T-shirts, and mementos. Innovation for entrepreneurs running corporate gifting businesses is perhaps a leather wallet or a pen set. The conversation is totally lost if you ask them to explore options that people can use and appreciate.

Corporations’ choice of gifts mostly depends on the companies that pitch to them, or more importantly, the ones who can supply anything at the last minute. Yes, people rarely have the time to plan for the gifts, but since it is part of the event’s budget, anything that can be supplied quickly fits the bill. Now you understand why Mugs and T-Shirts top the charts.

No Dearth of Choices

India has a galaxy of art and craft forms that can be incorporated into anything we gift, making it a memorable or collectible item. I still cherish the custom-made watch I received at the 20th anniversary of Infosys that could show 25 time zones, making it very useful for the global nature of our work apart from being a collectible and usable gift.

Gift vouchers, especially e-vouchers, work well in certain scenarios like remote teams but have negligible recall value or emotional connection. I do not remember what I bought from the gift vouchers I received. More often than not, we end up using them for mundane things.

The same applies to souvenirs people like to pick up when they travel, as a memory or a gift for someone back home. Countries with limited options have a much wider range of souvenirs than our culturally rich regions.

There is a huge opportunity for offline and online gifting and souvenir markets. Tourist destinations and international business hubs that global travelers frequent are always looking for good souvenirs from basic to premium ranges.

I always look for souvenirs that are light to carry and represent the essence of the place visited. Online portals can provide options and deliver bigger souvenirs to chosen addresses.

Great Gifts

A good inspiration for choosing well-thought gifts is the Prime Minister’s gifts to G7 leaders recently. It had cufflinks and a brooch made in Varanasi’s Gulabi Minakari for the Americans. A platinum hand-painted tea set for the tea-loving British and black pottery for Japanese who appreciate the delicate art of pottery. A Ram Durbar in lacquerware for the Indonesians, who live Ramayana through their performances. Each gift was perfectly chosen for the leader and the people they represent. Craftily chosen gifts are threads connecting two cultures or human beings.

At a personal level, flowers are high on popularity charts, peaking around Valentine’s days and wedding seasons. Only time will tell if they continue to be on top. Experience gifting saw some start-ups, but they did not pick up or add to Gift Economy.

I was looking at the tradition of gifting in India and realized the custom had multiplied manifold due to marketing push by brands. Every festival, personal milestones like birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, and our big fat weddings are gifting occasions. Brands use the occasions to push their products as gifts. So, every possible consumer brand has gifting as a revenue stream, but we see very few established brands around gifting.

Gift Economy of India

The gifting industry puts the industry size of the gift economy at Rs 250,000 crore, with a large percentage coming from corporate gifting and the rest from personal gifting. Organized corporate gifting may have a better track of numbers; personal gifting may be as big if not bigger.

Think about the consumer brands in gifting and souvenirs. You may think of Archies Galleries, which has remained relevant for generations. Some flower delivery brands may come to mind. There are other big and small companies. But when it comes to gifting brands with an Indian flavor, there is a huge scope for entrepreneurship.

This is one space where tradition, culture, creativity, design, and usability need to come together to come out with gifts that would delight both the giver and the receiver. Wheels that it would turn would include our traditional artists, designers, and creative youth apart from the usual supply chain, technology, and marketing folks.

Time to gift India a thriving Gifting Economy!

First published on 15 January 2023 in The New Indian Express

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