Is a Discount Really a Gift?

I've received a lot of emails recently from artists giving me a discount in the spirit of the season – if I buy.
“My gift to you . . . because I appreciate you so much . . . is 10% off my work.”
Package with discount tag
I'm not certain this is a gift, but I'm willing to change my mind. Can you convince me otherwise?

Deep Thought

Is offering a discount to buy your product or service really a “gift”?
A number of the offerings have been for 10%, which isn't normally enough to compel interested buyers.
Would it be more likely to be a gift if the discount were steeper?
Does it matter that it's called a gift in marketing messages?

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44 thoughts on “Is a Discount Really a Gift?”

  1. Jolie B Studios (@JolieBStudios)

    Seems not like a gift, 10% especially seems like somewhat of a pokey nudge – maybe if it were steeper, it might seem more as a gift

  2. I’m with you on this one Alyson. A discount is a discount. A gift is a complete thing that you give with no strings. I can give you a PDF but if I ask for your email in exchange then it’s an offer not a gift. A discount is an offer and not a gift.
    I think we have to be wary of abusing these terms and the patience of the people on our mailing lists. I unsubscribed from a list the other day for something not disimilar.

  3. I don’t consider it a gift. Anything where the customer has to do something to receive the item, in my mind, is not considered a gift.
    I think that a better idea is to send some small studies/paintings to each valued customer. Maybe on a gallery wrapped canvas or something so that they can immediately hang up, if they like it. That way, there is no outlaying of money from them.

  4. Hi Alyson,
    If that were me, getting the “gift” I would think it’s not worth it. I mean, even if someone’s art were $500, the gift (10% off) … you would still have to come up with the other $450. AND alot of them still charge you shipping.
    My idea of a gift is what you get when you sign up for a credit card/ store card, etc. They give you special little things that you can only get when you fill out the application.
    Why doesn’t an artist give you a gift (it doesnt have to be big or expensive)that ONLY that artist offers? for instance, why don’t they do a little aceo card and include it with the art that you order? OR a print. OR why don’t they include a “how to” of creating a certain piece of artwork, or something else that doesnt cost a lot but is of value to the customer? Just some thoughts.

  5. A gift is given freely, no strings. But the idea of gifts, may be changing as big marketers advertise “free gift with purchase” and other such ploys. Something like this from an artist, when offered one-to-one to clients, borders on insulting.

  6. Just give the discount with the cheesy reasons! Giving a discount because the product has not moved and its time to sell or to create some excitement for your products is okay. But “I appreciate you,” or because “I like you,” or “your special,” etc, etc sounds so very superficial to me. I agree with Cindy, the art card or some of her other suggestions are a perfect thank you for your business.

  7. I’m with you, a discount is not a gift. I don’t really like the idea of discounting art either, as it seems that would lessen the perceived value – holiday or no.
    Instead of doing a discount though, I have been offering free UPS Ground shipping for commissioners, and have made that applicable to paintings from any commission requests that come in up to the end of the year. It’s not on my website, but I tell people that when they email or call, wanting to commission a painting as a Christmas gift. That comes as an unexpected surprise when I tell them this right off at the start of communication and I do think it helps close the sale. Has it been working? well, I’ve been pulling 10 to 16 hour days in the studio for a few weeks now, and the pressure’s on. Today’s the last day at the shipping office to guarantee Christmas delivery via Ground. *deep breath* – back to work!

    1. yes a busy day that started at 4am, but the Christmas orders are complete and shipped. Thank goodness!
      I’m really not a good one to ask about gallery discounts. I do understand that galleries do periodically advertise discounts, and have worked with one gallery that did that. I never felt comfortable with it but understand it does have its applications. i’m not even working with that gallery anymore, their sales tanked. My work is still in one gallery, barely – 95% of my sales are coming from commissioners over the internet, which makes building a body of work not already spoken for a real challenge.
      One needs to be very careful about discounting, I think, or one may cultivate clientele who do not purchase at normal rates but instead “wait for the sale”. I’ve seen this in action with one of the shows I do. Artists purchase space at the show, usually 10×10 but often larger. The show puts large emphasis on the live auctions, miniature silent auctions, and Quick Draws, and this has had an ever-growing negative effect on sales through the booths. Patrons wander the booths and look, then flock to the auctions to purchase art for a fraction of what its value would be in the booths. Most of the artists barely earn back their booth fee, if at all.
      Now I am going to eat my words about not doing discounts, for I have COMPLETELY forgotten about the Scout Discount I do for Boy Scout families and leaders! But this is an ongoing discount catering to a niche – it applies to commissioned paintings only, and most often are ordered for Boy Scouts earning their Eagle, or for an adult leader who has completed Wood Badge. I spent over 10 years as a volunteer and leader in Scouting, and know too well how a family’s finances end up in camping gear, Jamboree, summer camp, etc. so it’s my way to give back to those dedicated to the youth. Pareto’s principle applies here, those involved in Scouting are my 80/20.

  8. I once was given 50% off the dinner at the CN Tower restaurant for my birthday…Wine not included…I checked their menu…Dinner might be $300.00( a tourist location)…Wine might be $100.00(inflated here)…So I would have had to pay $150 plus $100 = $250.00 for a half price meal with wine for two…I don’t usually go to tourist restaurants & $250 was way more than I’d pay for a meal anyways…It was not a gift…Not to mention that when you get a deal at a restaurant the service is usually disgruntled…because they know their tip will be discounted too…No, a discount is not a gift…

  9. I wouldn’t begin to try to change your mind that 10% is a “gift”. A “discount” by any other name is just a discount. Is a “perk” a gift? No, its still a marketing incentive to entice someone to make a purchase but it usually has more emotional value than a “discount”. Value Added perks, like a free print or set of notecards are tangible items that a person can hold, enjoy, or gift to another person. I also like to honor some buyers/collectors with VIP previews of exhibits. A 10% discount is pedestrian at best.

  10. I am one of those artists who sent an email offering a discount. My offer is for 20% off and free shipping.
    I did say it was a Holiday sale, I guess that’s different than a gift?
    My gift: I send out a calendar every year to my collectors, friends and family. That is my gift.
    This email/blog post was meant mainly for all my fans on facebook, twitter..etc. It was more of a “Thank you” for hanging out with me.
    My decision to do this special, was to make more room in my studio for new work.
    This is how I wrote it: “To say Thank you, I am offering a big Holiday sale for any of my available paintings in my shop. I am giving you 20% off plus free shipping. If you find a painting that you would like to purchase, email me at: and I will take the 20% off before you pay”.
    Alyson, I don’t know if I can convince you otherwise (you are not easy to convince 🙂 ) but I do feel that what I offered is a good sale/gift. Now comes the big question…will anybody buy anything?

    1. Dora: I think this is very different. You were clear that it’s a sale.
      And I think I’m pretty easily convinced. I change my mind all of the time – people here are good at that.

    2. Alyson, I know, you do change your mind if someone gives you a good explanation to substantiate their reasoning/point of view. I really like to see what everyone is saying. I would not want to convince you this time. A discount is definitely NOT a gift

  11. NO! I hate high pressure sales and I can smell them a mile a way.. This just reeks of gimmick-ness big time! Trying to make it sound like your really giving them something big..
    what a joke.. makes me never want to buy ANYTHING from them.. I don’t care if it’s something I want and it’s a good price.. still won’t buy ..
    My art is priced so low, it never needs to be discounted.

  12. I agree with everyone. A 10% discount is not a “gift”.
    Dora’s offering of 20% discount sent to her followers and fans may qualify as a gift, and it was done sensitively.

  13. I don’t like discounts much anyway. It’ll be kinder to give someone some dollar amount to spend in your store. That’s a better gift, just like the fabulous Kohl’s cash concept. 😉

  14. Not. A. Gift.
    It is so NOT a gift that I can barely contain myself.
    I imagine receiving a lovely scarf with a gift tag that reads, “Dear Amantha, Merry Christmas! I hope you enjoy this cashmere scarf. It was $395. I am happy to pay 10% of that! So the scarf will only be $355.50. I have a square card reader so I now accept credit cards! All the best to you this Holiday Season! Your Artist Friend.”

  15. No discount is a gift. I would NEVER call it a gift.
    One of my pet peeves is, on Etsy, faving an item or a shop and receiving a canned message saying that because I faved something I get a discount on something. For one thing, you’re not supposed to use Etsy’s email system to promote your shop, for another I may not have faved one’s item because I liked it but as part of a fave thing on a team.
    I do have discounts and sales, but I’m not going to go nuts promoting it, and unless someone is on my infant mailing list I’m certainly not going to send that person a notice letting them know.
    But that’s just my opinion.

  16. A ‘gift’ defined by the free online dictionary –
    “Something that is bestowed voluntarily and without compensation” …
    Why not offer a ‘bonus’
    “Something given in addition to what is usual or expected.”
    Personally I don’t think artists should offer discounts on their work commercially – if they do lower their prices in the hope of a sale don’t make it known. If a valued client wants to purchase a piece and is ready to buy, the option for goodwill by offering a small discount is value adding.
    Offering a bonus gift always leaves a good impression and worth the effort.

  17. Okay,
    This year I gave clients who bought from me this year a coupon for 20%
    off and a packet of intaglio hand printed Christmas cards. Not sure
    if it was right or wrong. The more I read about marketing the more
    confusing it seems to get. Reading something right now that states
    never, never, never give out discounts or have sales.

  18. Discounts as “gifts” are distasteful to me.I prefer to give an actual gift, a smaller item that I have have made as a thank you for a commission.It makes the clients happy and that makes me happy.And,I will pay for shipping and handling if someone buys several items, even gift wrap for free but not as an incentive to purchase, rather a little extra something after the purchase.
    I have given discounts on a church commission and windows on a Landmark Inn that underwent a restoration after a flood, but that was for a different reason.

    1. Want to mention that the discount was after I was awarded the commission.In each case it was a small way to help out.
      As a rule, my ready to purchase Art is never discounted or “on sale”. I believe it diminishes the value of the pieces.

  19. I don’t think it is a gift. I give small gifts with my Etsy sales – usually one of my magnets. For larger purchases at my studio sales, I tell people to pick out a magnet or sometimes a spoon rest. I would not consider giving them a coupon for a discount as a gift. Discounts usually also have an expiration date — sometimes one that is quite close to the purchase or date the discount is given. Another reason it is not a gift.

  20. Clearly I am outnumbered in the comments, but I believe a discount is a gift. A gift is given freely, and in the lead scenario the recipients did nothing to receive 10% off. I believe you can accept the gift discount even without capitalizing on it (aka buying something). The main reason it still is a gift is because the seller does not recoup that 10%, they are not compensated for that portion of the value of the artwork. Free gifts with purchase and e-mail sign-up gifts of .pdfs and bonus items sent as a surprise in with the purchased piece and other small tidbits are not free. They come with laden with expectations that the customer will think of the artist more often, that they will be a repeat customer because you did something nice for them, and expect the generosity will be returned with a future purchase.
    I believe in the laws of attraction and prosperity. When did we become so hyper critical and self righteous over what someone else is or is not allowed to give as a gift? Is it only a gift if you as a recipient deems it valuable and something that it beneficial to you solely?! That is rather selfish and arrogant. I am more open-minded and open to the idea no matter how small a gift can be and I choose to focus on all the many ways and opportunities the universe provides. And I am also more accepting of other people and their limitations and shortcomings in business dealings that they may need some finessing with their business acumen and model to be more socially normalized (or may not! authenticity is awesome!), realizing that they may not be like me and I will do my best not to judge them, bash them, hate them, and disassociate with them because they gave such a distastefully offensive 10% gift just to try and make a last minute sale. Most of us live in a capitalistic society, complete with all it’s many gifts!

    1. Nice ethical comment Nate…Worth thinking about…
      Myself I feel the same way Sheldon does about gifts:
      “Sheldon Cooper: Wait! You bought me a present?
      Penny: Uh-huh.
      Sheldon Cooper: Why would you do such a thing?
      Penny: I don’t know. ‘Cause its Christmas?
      Sheldon Cooper: Oh, Penny. I know you think you are being generous, but the foundation of gift giving is reciprocity. You haven’t given me a gift. You’ve given me an obligation.”
      From that great Big Bang Theory episode about gift giving…

  21. I have seen artists that truly DO APPRECIATE their customers, have giveaways, with no obligation to buy. It may be a gimmick, but maybe not. Some artists are generous. But sometimes, when they have “25% off if you buy today, if you wait longer it is 10%off”…. seems you are penalized for waiting. But its all in the way it is presented. Some people offer “free gift with purchase” which means you still have to buy something.
    Last year, I got a package in the mail from an artist I follow, she lives in Colorado, and I in the UK… and it was different cards that she had, it was presented lovely. I didn’t expect it, and I thought it was cool that she had sent it all the way from there. You may say that it was a marketing gimmick, but in MY eyes, it was a gift.
    I think it all comes down to the “spirit” of things. As for the “law of attraction”, you give, you receive like for like. 😀

  22. Not really. If we want to be in tune with the business world on discounts. Look at all of the retail trends in “gifts” to the customer. The common thought now is that 10% off is nothing to the consumer. Today, the norm that sparks interest is 50% even 60% off for a short time. Maybe a 1 day special.
    The reason is most goods are bought by the chain and a very low wholesale cost so it doesn’t really hurt. Now for an artist who has the lowest cost and if so chooses can “really gift” at 60 % off too. The only problem is with fine arts sales the collector would scream bloody murder is you discount below what they purchased at. Also, you dealer would have a cow too and dump you. This is too bad.
    Now if you are an independent artist, like me well business, is business regardless. I’ve gotten so fed up with the restriction on my sales that I’m opening up my own working studio and sales gallery. I plan on , specials, coupons, discounts on more than one purchase and the special “Gift” to my special people, friends, and clients even maybe my vendor. The “once a year sale’ will be following the retail trends.
    Folks, I know the purists that say all art should be valued at it greatest and never dropped just for a sale is behind the curve and must not forget that the “bottom line” is marked mostly in Red for a reason. Think like a business and “discount” when you can. Now to my friends and family the true gift costs only me time an money.

  23. A discount is a discount, not a gift. A gift doesn’t have a price tag for the recipient.
    If discounts are gifts, we have all received thousands of them from every store reducing their prices.
    A couple of years ago, my husband received some lottery tickets as a gift from his sister. I thought it a bit strange, because although it is a gift, it’s only a chance. And how would she feel if her brother won millions of dollars? Would she expect a gift from the proceeds?
    There are quite a few things given away that fall into that grey area. But I think a gift come without any strings other than the ribbons it’s wrapped with.

  24. I think it is possible to judge whether a discount is a gift on a case by case basis, as at a point perception matters. A discount is all about the “value” perceived, in the dollar amount and emotionally.
    A 60% discount or 10% may not make an affordable difference financially to the receiver, so therefore may not be perceived as a VIP exception award to access the product or service, and therefore the receiver may not *feel* gifted. But they may feel gifted regardless of being able to use a discount if they felt they were receiving a personal and genuine consideration.
    How the receiver views the product or service, whether it is essential/non- essential to themselves, could also influence the reaction to a discount.
    The product/ service itself plays a role in what discount amount could be perceived as “a VIP fortunate exception.”
    I think it possible to offer a discount as a gift if it can hurdle a “retail discount flavour” and enter into a VIP treatment based on a genuine and personal consideration towards the recipient within the parameters of the value of the product/service.
    Do I think that is extremely tricky? Yes! Which is why I am extremely careful of how I use a discount. For the most part I prefer to NOT use it at all. Any deviation from a listed price of my work is not referred to as a discount (if I have control of that.) The single time I have offered a discount was for a contest prize, and the winner had a choice of a 25% discount (I used that word) or a desktop calendar. Though the value of the gifts were significantly different, I had no idea if the winner could actually foresee themselves purchasing my work so I wanted to offer something more immediate that did not hold any expectations (of reciprocity, 😉 Sari ) The winner chose the discount.
    As Alyson knows, I ran a special newsletter series this year that focused on giving back to my clients and supporters: Every newsletter would contain a gift, was the promise. This made me think long and hard about “discounts.” I came up with several options: downloadable birthday/anniversary trackers, tickets, video lesson (I have a lot of artist collectors), an offer I only make 2-3 times a year which is a particular size of work I offer at a particular price (which I don’t refer to as discounted in anyway), and research/ organization of Hor D’oeuvres with accompanying presentation labels. On Facebook, I have also given away as prizes desktop calendars and magnets. I’ve also given away bookmarks if I was sent a SASE. My year end gift/giveaway/contest was a small commissioned work in exchange for reviews on my website, which worked out quite well. Every review was a draw entry.
    In the end, I stayed away from the term or idea of “discounts” unless I could attach it to a consideration of single recipient, and allowing the recipient a choice in determining which offer was more valuable to them.

  25. Col…I like how you offered a way out…A discount or a something…You set it free & it came back to you…
    Soon after I posted here, an artist posted something elsewhere about receiving a tiny discount from a supplier, & splurging on something, after deciding not to…
    The happy sinful joy of breaking one’s own budget rules made the discount a gift, by encouraging the receiver to go ahead & buy something nice for oneself…
    It was like saying:”You are ALLOWED to buy something for yourself”…
    For the Spartan self-flagellators, a coupon is a hint…A reminder…Permission…
    In these exceptions, & with the sensitivity & care like Col provides, you can get away with it…

  26. I don’t like the term “discount” for we who are artists. It sounds so … Wakmarty. How about Jack White’s term or a variation thereon – “client courtesy consideration”? I recently sent out an email offering a 10% client courtesy consideration for purchases made before the end of the year to all on my email list.
    And btw, I really like Col Mitchell’s ideas! Let’s give ’em something – besides a sales pitch!
    Best to all,

  27. Bjørn Edvard Torbo


    Venting on just another Tuesday:
    I just stumbled upon this (very) old post today, because I Googled “A discount is not a gift” to see what the consensus is “out there”, after receiving a “This is our gift to you – 15% off your next purchase” type of e-mail from MyFonts (they are as we all know by no means alone in this, of course). Stating the obvious, it really hit me sideways, and enough so that I ended up here.

    NO, an opportunity for ME to spend (even if it’s a little less) money on THEIR site is not a gift. It’s still an invitation from them to hand over some of MY money to them. If it’s a gift, it’s a gift TO THEM. I can accept that a discount also may pass as an offer, a proposal, a rebate, a coupon, a sale or something along those lines, but a GIFT is not something that you PAY for (unless its a “gift for yourself” or a gift that you buy so that you can give it to others, of course).

    I see that some people makes arguments like “perhaps, if it was a higher percentage” and so on, but really, the percentage doesn’t really matter unless it’s 100. THAT’S the only true threshold or measure for something being a gift or not. A gift is something that is GIVEN, free of charge.

    Here’s what the dictionary says:

    gift | ɡɪft |
    1 a thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present.

    Middle English: from Old Norse gipt; related to give.

    Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a good discount as much as the next person, but call it a GIFT and I’m no longer on board. I will actually hesitate very strongly to bring my business back to that vendor, because I find this practice dishonest and unethical.

    Thanks, that was all. 😉

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