Unwanted gifts

Half of Brits receive gifts they don't want, worth some £5 billion combined

Christmas – a time to spend with family, feast on roast turkey, enjoy the festive atmosphere and of course, receive presents. But as it turns out, you’d better start thinking through the ‘presents’ part of the equation a little more, as more people than you think receive unwanted gifts each year.

According to our survey of 2,009 British adults, we estimate that over 21 million (50.77%) of us receive at least one unwanted gift each Christmas. There’s even one in 10 (9.26%) of us who have deliberately bought someone a gift they knew they wouldn’t like.

Of those who’ve received these undesired gifts, they receive three on average. That’s three too many!

How much are we spending on these unwanted gifts?

Any amount is too much (except to the one in 10 who do this on purpose), but it averages out at £41.70 being spent on each of these disliked presents. That comes out at an estimated £5.03 billion that’s going down the drain.

What do Brits do with their unwanted gifts?

The largest group of people opted to politely keep the presents they disliked (23.20%), so perhaps we’re able to excuse those gift-givers who truly thought they’d bought you the perfect gift.

Regifting comes in at a close second (22.50%), followed by the caring souls who donated them instead (21.87%).

Getting into the entrepreneurial mindset, 11.31% of those with an unwanted gift sold it, followed by 9.86% who exchanged them and 6.13% threw them away.

There’s even 4.68% who went the blunt route and gave the unwanted present back!

What we do with unwanted gifts Percentage
Keep them 23.20%
Regift them 22.50%
Donate them 21.87%
Sell them 11.31%
Exchange them 9.86%
Throw them away 6.13%
Give them back 4.68%
Other 0.44%

Unwanted gifts: What should I avoid buying as a Christmas present?

Clothing and accessories topped the list of most unwanted gifts (25.03%), followed by cosmetics and fragrances (17.63%), household items (11.49%), food and/or drink (8.07%), literature (7.47%), music (6.47%), and technology (5.24%).

Turns out if you’re unsure what to get someone, stick with tech or music! These were least likely to be unwanted. There was also 18.59% counted as “other”, which included toiletries, novelty items and gift vouchers.

What we don't like to receive Population
Clothing/accessories 25.03%
Cosmetics/fragrances 17.63%
Household items 11.49%
Food/drink 8.07%
Literature 7.47%
Music 6.47%
Technology 5.24%

Unwanted gifts: Who gives the worst gifts?

Unfortunately, friends take out first prize for giving the worst gifts. If you have a Secret Santa coming up among your friends, perhaps ask them for a wish-list. We found that almost one in three unwanted gifts come from friends (30.63%). Parents are the worst gift-givers after them (13.92%), followed by parents-in-law (11.31%).

Next up on the chopping block are partners – almost one in 10 single out their significant other as the worst culprit (9.87%), followed their own children (7.00%) and your boss (4.64%). Other categories include coworkers, ex-partners (including ex-mistresses) and extended relatives, with 18.65% calling them out as bad gifters.

What do people look forward to during the holidays?

Over two in five (43.80%) of all respondents say they most look forward to spending time with their family during Christmas, while 7.47% claim they’ve nothing to look forward to.

Getting time off work is the second favourite thing about the holidays for Brits (17.22%), followed closely by the festive atmosphere (13.34%). Food is next (9.26%), then presents (4.13%).

There’s even 2.44% of us who say their favourite thing is getting drunk! The remaining (2.34%) things that people look forward to include relaxing, decorating the house and travelling.

Let’s take a look at demographics


Women appear to be the pickier of the sexes, with 54.77% saying they’d received an unwanted gift, compared with 46.41% of men. On average, the unwanted gifts were more expensive for men than women – £38.69 for women, compared with £45.58 for men.

Men are much more likely to give back the presents (7.81%, compared to 2.24% for women), as well as throw them away (8.68%, compared with 4.15% for women). Women are more likely to donate them at 26.37% compared with men (16.06%), as well as regift them (25.48% compared with 18.67% of men).

Men are more likely to deliberately buy an unwanted gift – 11.55% of all men have done this, compared with 7.16% of women.

As for the kinds of unwanted gifts, men are more likely to not want music (9.03% compared to 4.09% of women), whereas women are more likely to not want household items for Christmas (13.57% compared to 9.26% of men). To further break the stereotype, women are more likely to be unhappy with cosmetic and fragrance gifts (23.26% compared to 11.57%).

When it comes to spending time with family over the holidays, a higher proportion of women (48.28%) than men (38.92%) look forward to it. Getting drunk, on the other hand, seems to be something men (4.47%) look forward to more than women (0.57%). They also anticipate taking time off work more than women, at 19.15% of men compared to 15.46% of women.


It turns out the millennials are the pickiest generation, with almost three-quarters (71.06%) of them saying they’ve received a gift they dislike. They’re followed by Gen Xers at 54.72% and baby boomers at 40.81%.

The average number of unwanted gifts are two for baby boomers, three for Gen Xers and four for millennials, with the average cost of these gifts coming in at £18.61 for baby boomers, £35.33 for Gen Xers and £93.84 for millennials.

Millennials are most likely to give the present back (9.61%), followed by Gen Xers (4.83%) then baby boomers (0.94%). They’re also the most likely to throw them away (10.39%), compared to Gen Xers (6.33%) and baby boomers (2.81%).

What do we do with the gifts? Millennial Gen Xer Baby boomer
Keep them 22.86% 20.81% 26.40%
Regift them 21.82% 23.23% 22.10%
Donate them 11.69% 20.21% 31.27%
Sell them 15.32% 13.57% 5.62%
Exchange them 8.31% 10.71% 9.93%
Throw them away 10.39% 6.33% 2.81%
Give them back 9.61% 4.83% 0.94%
Other 0.00% 0.30% 0.94%

Perhaps millennials are overdue for some self-reflection when it comes to Christmas giving. Over two in three say they’ve received a gift they dislike, yet they’re the worst for knowingly gifting someone an unwanted present (21.86%). Baby boomers, on the other hand, are the most thoughtful in their gifts with only 3.31% buying a bad gift on purpose, followed by Gen Xers at 11.42%. If you receive a gift from a millennial this Christmas season, watch out.

The grinchiest generation of them all are baby boomers, with 9.29% of them saying there’s nothing they like about the holidays. Gen X follows this at 6.69%, with millennials coming in the least likely at only 3.86% not liking Christmas

Getting drunk is a near equal priority across all the generations – millennials are the highest at 2.57%, baby boomers are next at 2.46%, and Gen Xers bring up the rear at 2.36%. Millennials are most into presents (9.32%, compared to 4.86% of Gen Xers and 1.82% of baby boomers) but the least likely to want to spend time with family (34.73%, compared with 45.51% of baby boomers and 45.41% of Gen Xers).


Perhaps it’s all in where you live – the top three pickiest regions for presents are London (63.80%), the North East (57.41%), and West Midlands (55.26%). Those in London have the most expensive unwanted gifts at £116.06. The North East follows as the second most expensive at £38.37 as well as Yorkshire and The Humber at £33.28.

London, once again, tops the list of those deliberately buying their loved ones unwanted gifts at 24.37%. Coming in next are East Midlands (10.29%) and West Midlands (9.87%).

Unwanted gifts: How do we compare to the USA?

It turns out our friends across the pond are less likely to deliberately buy someone a gift they knew they won’t like! Only 7% of Americans have done this, compared with 9.26% of Brits. We’re also spending more than them on these unwanted presents, at £41.70 compared to the £36.96 (USD$49.45) that Americans spend on average.

Regifting seems to know no borders. Both of us tend to give our unwanted presents to someone else the most. We are, however, more likely to return to sender – 4.68% of Brits getting unwanted presents will give them back, compared with 2.56% of Americans. We’re also in agreement on who gives the worst gifts – hands down, friends.

So what do we do about it?

Perhaps it’s time to start a wishlist policy. Or better yet, with more people looking forward to spending time with their family than presents, rearrange our priorities. Either way, start getting smarter about gift-giving. Don’t be afraid to ask what people want – it also means you’ll be able to shop around and find the best deal!

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Matt Mckenna
Head of UK communications
T: +44 20 8191 8806

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