Flowers play an important role in social life being frequently used to mark significant occasions in life, such as holidays, weddings, births, and deaths. Because of their symbolic meanings, usually grounded in their appearance, color, fragrance, growing seasons, or stories, flowers are also used as gifts to convey the givers’ intentions to the receivers [Connolly, 2004; Seaton, 1995; Society of American Florists (SAF), 2012a]. In fact, gift giving today has become the primary reason for fresh flower purchases. In the United States, 67% of fresh flower purchases are for gifts (SAF, 2012b). In Japan, 80% of cut flowers are consumed as gifts or for commercial purposes, while 60% of potted plants are purchased as gifts in Korea (Kim et al., 1999). Even though purchasing flowers as a gift is important, consumer behavior related to this action has rarely been the focus of academic studies. This study is intended to address this deficiency.
When purchasing flowers as gifts, consumers like to buy the flowers in person because they enjoy the sensory pleasure derived from their beauty and fragrance. Consumers also want the floral gifts to have good blooming quality and longevity because they hope to maximize their purchase value and increase the remembrance of their gifts (Yue et al., 2009). Basically, floral gift purchases are highly occasion oriented. Christmas, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and birthdays are among the most common occasions for purchasing flowers for gifts. Of these holiday occasions, Valentine’s Day is the most important for the retailing of floral gifts, accounting for 40% (in dollar volume) of the total fresh flower holiday sales in the United States (SAF, 2012c).
Valentine’s Day is a highly commercialized holiday for gift giving worldwide (Clark et al., 1999). On average, every couple in the United States spent about US$68.98 on their romantic partners for Valentine’s Day in 2011 (Grannis, 2011); the average annual sales volume of Valentine’s Day gifts in Taiwan is about US$118.8 million (Eastern Online, 2006), averaging US$9.9 per capita. Even though flowers have been shown to be helpful for facilitating a romantic relationship (Guéguen, 2011, 2012), statistical reports on Valentine’s Day gift sales show that flowers are not the most favorite gift choice on this occasion. For example, a statistical report in the United States in 2005 showed that jewelry, candy, and apparel, rather than flowers, were the top three gift choices for Valentine’s Day (SAF, 2005). Similarly for Taiwan, flowers ranked third, after apparel and chocolate, as the favorite romantic gift purchases for Valentine’s Day (Eastern Online, 2005). Obviously, florists have strong competition on Valentine’s Day.
Gifts are mainly used for social communication. They work as an instrument to convey the giver’s intention, as well as how the giver perceives the recipient and the relationship (Banks, 1979; Belk and Coon, 1993; Joy, 2001; Schwartz, 1967). On the recipient side, accepting gifts means agreeing with the giver’s intention and identification (Belk and Coon, 1993; Schwartz, 1967). Thus, through the action of gift giving, the intentions between the dyad are communicated, and the relationship is initiated or realigned.
Gifts are highly diverse and include both tangible and intangible objects, such as service, time, ideas, or even money (Belk and Coon, 1993; Joy, 2001). However, what is given as a gift is determined by the characteristics of the relationship, such as the development and intimacy level of the relationship (Belk and Coon, 1993; Burgoyne and Routh, 1991; Komter and Vollebergh, 1997). Romantic gift giving tends to follow the same rule. For example, even though gift giving is a common strategy for initiating a romantic relationship at the early stage of dating, men prefer to choose symbolic gifts, instead of expensive ones, to express their feelings for their dating partners (Coon and Belk, 1991). This is in part to avoid being taken advantage of, as well as to maximize the marginal value of dating gifts. In contrast, gifts for intimate partners tend to be more expensive and practical in a marital relationship (Clark et al., 1999; Coon and Belk, 1991).
According to the wheel theory of love (Reiss, 1960, 1976; Reiss and Lee, 1988), there are four stages in the development of a romantic relationship: rapport, self-revelation, mutual dependency, and personality need fulfillment. For each stage, different motivations and affection are fostered and experienced, and the intimacy level varies across these stages. At the beginning, a mutual feeling of rapport is perceived, and the couple feels familiar, comfortable, and relaxed with each other, and has the desire to disclose him/herself more to the other. If the individual discloses him/herself to the one admired, then the relationship moves to the next stage, self-revelation (Reiss, 1960, 1976; Reiss and Lee, 1988). With the increase of sharing experiences and knowing each other’s inner self as a result of this self-disclosure, an interdependent habit system is built between the partners, and the relationship becomes closer and more intimate. This is known as the mutual dependency stage. As the relationship continues, certain inner needs are fulfilled, the two have the emotional feelings of belonging, trust and being encouraged, and they feel they can sacrifice for each other. These four stages proceed from one to the next sequentially, and the process circulates from the first stage to the last repeatedly like the movement of a wheel or clockspring (Borland, 1975), as the romantic relationship continues. Reiss’s wheel theory is one of the pioneer theories in romantic love paving a way for researchers to see how romantic relationships form and progress. This theory has been widely applied by researchers to test their research hypotheses or support their research findings (Haavio-Mannila and Rannik, 1987; Lewis, 1973; Martin and Luke, 1991; Ridley et al., 1982), as well as widely cited by contemporary researchers to define the development of romantic love (Atwood, 1994; Cere, 2000; Hazan and Shaver, 1994; Määttä and Uusiautti, 2012; Paik and Woodley, 2012; Sassler, 2004).
The affection and intimacy level of a romantic relationship will depend on the number of cycles that the “love wheel” has passed through (Borland, 1975; Reiss, 1960, 1976; Reiss and Lee, 1988), even though the development of romantic love is a reversible process (Borland, 1975). The triangular love theory proposed by Sternberg (1986, 1997) defines three affection components for romantic love: intimacy, passion, and commitment. The intimacy component refers to the feelings of closeness in a love relationship that usually generate the experience of warmth for the person in love. The passion component refers to the physical attraction and sexual consummation, or other phenomena related to the intensity or arousal of the inner sexual drive. The commitment component refers to the cognitive decision to stay in the relationship long term. The conceptualization of triangular love theory (Sternberg, 1986, 1997) has been widely adopted by many contemporary researchers to measure interpersonal romantic love (Aloni and Bernieri, 2004; Arias et al., 2009; Barelds and Barelds-Dijkstra, 2007; Bauermeister et al., 2011; Engel et al., 2002; Zeidner and Kaluda, 2008). Some researchers have extended the triangular love scale to measure consumers’ love for brands, products, or firms (Albert and Valette-Florence, 2010; Jin and Jia, 2009; Yim et al., 2008), as well as people’s religious love of God (Beck, 2006).
Generally, the strength and balance of the love affections verify an individual’s experience and behavior in a romantic relationship. However, what kind of love is experienced partly depends on an individual’s romantic attachment style, an inner personality characteristic (Feeney and Noller, 1992; Tucker and Anders, 1999). Those who are anxious about their romantic relationship worry about being betrayed or neglected, and thus constantly monitor their intimate partners. Some others may have an avoidant attitude to love, such that they are afraid to have a promised relationship with others, and thus tend to avoid commitment in the relationship (Feeney and Noller, 1992; Nguyen and Munch, 2011; Tucker and Anders, 1999). Frankly, individuals tend to have different expectations for their romantic relationships. So, even though love has its sweetness, not everyone wishes to say “I love you” or look for commitment in a romantic relationship for various reasons, such as obligation, anxiety, and materialism (Belk and Coon, 1993; Otnes et al., 1994). As gifts may influence relationships, an individual’s satisfaction level toward his/her romantic relationship is very likely to influence his/her gift-giving behavior in the relationship.
As flowers are usually positioned as “expressive” products by florists to encourage consumers to buy flowers as romantic gifts, understanding how the characteristics of a romantic relationship influence consumers’ choice of whether to buy flowers as romantic gifts will help florists in promoting flowers on Valentine’s Day more efficiently. This study was aimed to explore the influence of the characteristics of a romantic relationship, in terms of its development stages, affection components, and satisfaction level on consumers’ decisions of whether to buy their intimate partners a gift of fresh flowers for Valentine’s Day. The study results can benefit the floral industry in developing advertising campaigns and alliances for promoting Valentine’s Day floral gifts more efficiently.
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