To help Christmas shoppers face the annual challenge of finding the perfect presents for their nearest and dearest, TK Maxx have partnered with a team of behavioural scientists to offer a new way to gift those who mean the most to us.

Using the premise of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - reaching our potential, self-esteem, feeling loved, feeling safe and basic survival - behavioural scientists are identifying personality traits which will help shoppers find the most suitable gift for their loved ones.

According to the experts, there are five types of people you'll be shopping for this Christmas: The Curious Spirit, The Big Achiever, The Social Connector & The Simplicity Seeker.

Mike Hughes, one of the behavioural scientists who lead the study said: "After the year we've all had, meaningful gifting has taken on renewed importance and people are looking to give thoughtful gifts to their loved ones this Christmas."

We caught up with Mike to find out more about the science of shopping.

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Is there really such a thing as the science of gifting? What's at play when we shop for others?
There is! As psychologists, we have unearthed the behavioural 'biases' that influence our shopping habits and can often lead to choosing the wrong gift. For instance, at Christmas we can often fall into ‘shopping autopilot’, leading us to buy the same presents every year.

Meanwhile the ‘Consensus Effect’ is where we think that our beliefs and preferences are the same as others, so we buy presents that we think others will like, just because we like them ourselves.

Similarly, the ‘Present Bias’ tells us that we prefer shorter term gains right now over larger benefits in the future – so when shopping we will focus on the moment of gift exchange (such as buying flowers in that are in bloom), when in fact the gift receiver would much prefer and benefit from flowers that are yet to bloom and will last longer.

How can science help us shop for someone special? 
We have delved into the psychology behind human needs and what makes us feel special. This is based on the work that the psychologist Maslow did in the 1950s. He suggested we have five psychological needs - reaching our potential, self-esteem, feeling loved, feeling safe and basic survival.

Based on the unique year we've updated these for 2020 and created a new tool to firstly identify what your loved one might need most this Christmas, and then created psychologically informed gift prompts to make sure they feel special and get what they truly deserve. The first step is to use this tool and identify which ‘need type’ is most relevant to your loved one.

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Talk us through the four types of people we may be shopping for this year.

We have identified four distinct need types for 2020:

1. Curious Spirit
This person loves to lose themselves in their passions and interests, and this year more than most they will have missed exploring new sights and sounds. As they look to the new year, they’ll likely be planning a new adventure and looking to re-discover the hobbies and activities they’ve missed out on this past year.

2. Social Connector?
The Social Connector is happiest when surrounded by their loved ones. They love spending time with friends and family, and unfortunately video calls just haven’t cut it for them this year! As we look to 2021, they’ll be finding new and exciting ways to stay connected with those they cherish, beyond the standard Zoom and FaceTime calls!

3. Big Achiever
This go-getter is always setting themselves a new challenge, and this year they’ve really missed being recognised for all the great things that they do and achieve. In 2021, they will mostly be kick-starting their next big project and pursuing one of their many passions!

4. Simplicity Seeker
The Simplicity Seeker loves home comforts & the simple things in life, and actually needs very little – they always make the most of what they have. So, for the Simplicity Seeker it will really be about focusing on living the good life and celebrating the things that matter most to them.

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How accurate is this science? Are we guaranteed to find the 'perfect gift'?
Although our insights and behavioural principles are based on empirical research, we sadly can’t guarantee that every gift will be the perfect one. But through identifying what our loved ones need most this Christmas, we’re more likely to see that gifters will have more ideas to choose the gift that will make their friends and family feel extra special this Christmas. And hopefully meaning less returned or unused gifts in the process.

Any tips for shopping for the person who has everything?
Our research also found that we really like surprises, so even if a person says that they have everything, there is still an opportunity to surprise them with an unexpected gift. The key here however is to get it right (we hate surprises when the other person gets it wrong or feel they just don’t ‘get us’), so finding out what is unique to that person or references a moment you’ve both shared or cherish will always go down.