Graves, gifts, and the bereaved consumer: a restorative perspective of gift exchange

Jenna Drenten, Loyola University of Chicago
Kristy McManus, Terry College of Business
Lauren I. Labrecque, Loyola University of Chicago


When a gifting relationship is disrupted by death, why might a living consumer continue to invest in it? Consumer spending on deceased loved ones does not end with the funeral. Given the embodying power of a physical gravesite, this article examines the practice of gift giving to the deceased in the context of American cemeteries. We employ a longitudinal approach, in which 180 cemetery gravesites were photographed. The photographic data are coupled with a netnography of grief and bereavement communities. Findings support a restorative perspective of gift exchange. Bereaved consumers utilize restorative giving as a mechanism to cope with loss and maintain relationships with deceased loved ones. We outline five categories of gifts given to the deceased and present a framework of restorative giving practices. Implications are discussed in terms of identity development, symbolic communication, and reciprocity in gift giving, as deceased consumers continue to be recipients of tangible goods.