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'Tis Better To Give To Thyself Than...

November 15, 2012

Apparently, finding an increasingly critical holiday shopper only involves looking in the mirror.

According to the NRF's holiday consumer spending survey conducted by BIGinsight, nearly six in 10 shoppers (59.0 percent) plan to spend an average of $139.92 on "self-gifting" this holiday season — the most on non-gift items in the survey's 10-year history.

The self-gifting rate decreased with the Great Recession but picked up in each of the last three years. Overall, 20 percent of the average shopper's holiday outlay is projected to be spent on themselves in 2012, up from 14 percent in 2004.

Among groups, the biggest spenders are adults, 25-34, averaging $175.65. But the biggest group is young adults, ages 18-24, with more than seven in 10 (71.5 percent) looking to spend an average of $159.62.

NRF noted that the young are most likely to endure the long lines for midnight and early-bird Black Friday promotions.

"It looks like young adults have the 'one for you two for me' mentality about the holiday season this year, which is surprising given that this is also the age group that typically doesn't have the income or ability to splurge," said BIGinsight Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow, in a statement.

In an article penned for Time Magazine, Kit Yarrow, chairperson of the Psychology Department of Golden Gate University, posited five reasons for the rise in holiday self-gifting:

  1. Expected Deals: Early-fall purchases have been delayed as shoppers have become "more accustomed than ever to associate the holidays with massive bargains," especially with promotions heightening since the Great Recession.
  2. Impulse Buys Aplenty: More so than other times of the year, holiday browsers face accessories, party clothes, decorations, and electronics that are "all arguably better to purchase for oneself than someone else, whose preferences you can't gauge."
  3. "Me-Centric" Society: While self-gifting would have been "laughed off" in prior eras, self-esteem movements in schools as well as marketing messages such as "reward yourself" and "you deserve it" are making the practice more acceptable.
  4. Savings Reinvested: Shoppers spending less than planned on a gift use the savings to self-gift as a smart-shopping reward. The chore and thrill of bargain hunting also encourages self-gifting.
  5. Mental Vulnerability: Crowd-swerving, deal hunting, lists and other holiday mayhem derails planned budgets. Ms. Yarrow wrote, "It's harder to think straight, and easier to make impulse and self-reward purchases when we're holiday shopping."
Discussion Questions:

What do you think is driving the apparent rise in holiday self-gifting? What can stores do to further take advantage of the opportunity?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Which of the following do you think is the biggest reason for the recent rise in holiday self-gifting?


I have a lot of takes on this story, and none of them are particularly positive. I got a good chuckle, however, out of the idea that one buys for one's self because "you can't gauge" the preferences of others. And, the holiday season makes it "harder to think straight." My simplistic take is there are a lot of self-absorbed younger people (not all of them of course) who would just as soon get as to give. The good news for retailers is it's not hard to market to them -- just offer them something trendy with a perceived "deal" and you are home free.

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Al McClain, CEO, Founder, RetailWire.com

Technology changing so fast could also be driving the absolute dollar increase. A new smartphone, tablet or gaming system blows the average dollars spent on self-gifting. So many of us use the holidays to treat ourselves to the latest new gadget. It would be really interesting to see this data by category.

Alison Chaltas, EVP, GfK

I have to believe that if people are "self-gifting" more, then they probably are not spending on themselves as much during the year.

But there could be a point to Kit Yarrow's mention of the "me-centric" society, particularly among the 18- to 24-year-olds.

I did see a "one for you, two for me" TV ad by a major retailer and personally I did not find it a palatable concept. Especially in a time when so many Americans continue to suffer following Hurricane Sandy, retailers must be sensitive to how they advertise. Right now, certainly in parts of the country, a more charitable and giving advertising effort may have more appeal for consumers.

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Debbie Hauss, Editor-in-Chief, Retail TouchPoints

From a personal standpoint (from someone that has been accused more than once as being self-absorbed), I think there is just too much good stuff out there during the holidays to not reward yourself just a bit while you are shopping for others.

Yes, there may be some life-stage segments out there that tend to be more self-centered, and of course these folks will drive the averages of "self-gifting" up a point or two. But the dominant reason for treating oneself to some goodies at the Holidays is great prices on technology, apparel and countless other commodities that are not available the rest of the year.

Remember, "Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door." was a quote from Charles Dickens, the same guy who wrote the "Christmas Carol"...some poetic irony there, I think.

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Mark Heckman, Principal, Mark Heckman Consulting

I think this story is quite sad when you think about it. Apparently, young adults do not trust those who know them best to find the right gift for them. So, they get it themselves. Is this a statement identifying the next generation of leaders? I would hope not since good leaders must have a higher level of trust for their staff to get things done properly. Let's take the high road and say that the recession has past and we just want to have some level of reward having survived what must have been the worst of times.

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Frank Riso, Principal, Frank Riso Associates, LLC

Self-gifting is not new of course, but the level of spend is high this year as a result of "recession fatigue." Shoppers have been putting their own needs and wants on hold season after season, and finally, feel confident enough to spend on themselves -- the result of pent-up demand.

How to capitalize on this? Gee, it won't take much. Why not encourage the one-for-you, two-for-me mindset with a literal deal -- buy two get one. Or buy one, get 50% off another purchase. This is a essentially a pantry-loading strategy this holiday season.

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Liz Crawford, SVP, Strategy & Insights, Head of ShopLab, Match Drive

Perhaps the reason for self-gifting is because they don't have any friends to give gifts to? The trend over past 10 years, but has certainly slowed down during the current recession was the "perfect" gift -- gift cards. Avoid returns, disappointment and let the recipient "complete" the gift based on their own preferences. I see technology having a lot to do with this insight on buying intent. So much easier to make a purchase and "treat yourself" than ever before. Likewise, pent up spending -- time to take care of #1 on my list and it isn't a best friend or spouse, but rather satisfy the cravings for self-gratification and bring a smile to one's own psyche for the any season, not just holiday.

David Slavick, Director, Loyalty & Retention, FTD.com

I thought the "Me" generation happened in the '80s!

Since this survey is probably relatively accurate, I'm sure retailers and CPGers could take advantage. Perhaps some "guiltless indulgence" promotional messaging around gift products may compel even the most selfless people to partake in this trend.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

Two things are the main contributors to "self-gifting." First is the me-centric society we have created. Everybody gets a participation medal, everybody gets to play, everybody "deserves" things. I have watched this reduce competitiveness, dull the initiative of some who want to stand out and reduce accountability in general.

Secondly, the amount of advertising and merchandising makes it so attractive to buy impulsively that even us old hardheads who think the season is about giving end up rewarding ourselves if the temptation is great. Having said that, retail spending is at the heart of our economy and if done within a budget, taking care of yourself at the Holidays is not such a bad thing. Retailers are already way ahead of the curve in making it attractive to buy for yourself!

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J. Peter Deeb, Managing Partner, Deeb MacDonald & Associates, L.L.C.

Consumers have been holding back on making purchases for years thanks to the great recession. I think this is pent up demand that is now being released as self gifting or said another way, buying things you need at a great price.

Retailers can focus advertising and specials on nontraditional gift items. These items will drive sales through self gifting. A good example this holiday season is Sears. They have a washer and dryer that will be over 50% off on Black Friday. This is clearly a self gift. If a husband or wife is buying this for their spouse, they better watch out for coal in their stocking next year.

John Boccuzzi, Jr., Managing Partner, Boccuzzi, LLC

Consumers are gifting and cashing in gift cards sooner to take advantage of the holiday season promotions. The author forgot to add this option for consideration.


Americans are by nature acquisitive and think they are entitled to personal things. So, after a period of self-denial, self-gifting becomes more essential. That's where we are today.

Stores can copy from Hallmark's paraphrased appeal: When you care enough about yourself to receive the very finest -- buy it. After all, you're worth it.

Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

Hmmm, looks like another slow news day; sorry, but this really isn't a story. People spend hundreds -- make that thousands -- of dollars on themselves all year long...that some fraction of that is during the holiday period is hardly surprising.

What WAS interesting to me, though, was the NRF data that showed about 40% of people indicated they begin their holiday shopping before Halloween (and half of those said "September or earlier"!)...who could imagine so many people are that organized?


Let's not call it 'self-gifting' when it is simply taking advantage of great sales at a time of year you have planned to spend money. The reason for the increase? It has taken a few years for all of us to learn to live well within our means. We've gotten rid of some debt and now feel comfortable enough to stash a little money aside again.

Lee Kent, Sharing Insights for Success in Retail, YourRetailAuthority

Call it what ever you want. Make anything out of it you'd like. Deride one generation over another if that works. The reality is that retailers have simply trained consumers. That's it. Smart shoppers have learned. They are doing just exactly what they were trained to do. They are shopping when the promotions and prices are the best of the entire year.

Is that really self-gifting? What it is for consumers is deferred purchases to a point when prices and savings are the best.

So, now that retailers have achieved getting customers to respond to what they have trained them to do -- it is somehow selfish behavior? Ha! Blame the consumer and call them selfish for responding to their training? That's about as cynical as it gets.

What can retailers do to take advantage of the opportunity? Aren't they already? The consumers certainly are taking advantage of the opportunity. The problem is that the proposition of doing so has beaten them out of margin. So, now what? Re-train?


We have fractured family ties and the bulk of the holiday resides still on the female members of the family. When a single mom gifts everyone and there is no one there to give to her, I think it's only right that she get herself a little something.

Kate Blake, Social Media Manager, Take Five with Kate Blake

It's been a tough year. I deserve it.

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Jerry Gelsomino, Principal, FutureBest

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