Holiday Self-Gifting & Where it Came From

Eric Suliga, Creative Director

The modern holiday season isn’t just about showing your appreciation for friends and family with thoughtfully-chosen, beautifully-wrapped gifts--it’s now also a time to treat yourself. Whereas the thought of using the “season of giving” as an excuse to give to yourself was once considered a faux pas, the trend of self-gifting has bloomed over the last few holiday seasons. It’s now not only socially acceptable to do so, but often encouraged.

We, and other publishers, often talk about how busy and cluttered the holiday season is, making it that much more difficult for brands to catch the attention of their target audiences. But the experience is the same for consumers, too. The holiday season can feel like a mad rush between family gatherings, parties, shopping trips and more. So no wonder it feels good to reward yourself along the way.

According to Deloitte’s annual Holiday Retail Survey, 50% of consumers say they’ll shop for themselves this holiday season while shopping for others.[1] The National Retail Federation estimates that 15% of the $967 each person is expected to spend during the 2017 holidays will be on “non-gift purchases,” including items purchased for themselves or their families.

So while buying something for yourself was not what the holiday splurge was originally meant to be about, that is where we find ourselves today. For marketers--and retail marketers in particular--understanding the reasons behind this consumer behavior can help inform new ways of breaking through the clutter this holiday season.

Self-Gifting Emerged Alongside the “Holiday Sale”

The most obvious answer to why self-gifting has become so popular is the prevalence of extravagant sales around the holidays. Indeed, Deloitte’s survey found that more than 4 in 10 consumers plan to wait for a holiday sale to buy big ticket items for themselves or their households.[1] I mean, if you already know you want a new winter coat or that your family needs a bigger flat screen TV, why not wait to purchase those items until the holiday sales kick in?

Ever since the Great Recession of the late 2000s, many retailers have resorted to sales to move inventory. That’s when we started seeing stores discount popular items by 50% or more. But now, consumers have been trained to expect this deep discounting to start right after Halloween and have changed their shopping habits accordingly. This has made major shopping occasions, like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, somewhat less compelling because consumers know they can get a good deal anytime throughout the holiday season.

The Implications of an eCommerce Mindset

Another interesting perspective on self-gifting is one we talked about with Eric Gohs, the Vice President of Marketing Strategy for Lane Bryant, when he joined us for an upcoming episode of our Power of Audio podcast (stay tuned for its launch next week!). As the nation’s leading specialty size women’s apparel brand, the holiday season is a critical time for Lane Bryant, which is why their holiday marketing strategy is not only focused on finding the perfect gift for your loved one but also includes a “gift yourself” message.

According to Eric, the consumer shift towards self-gifting was heavily influenced by the adoption of eCommerce. He explained, “the advent of online shopping--and this is not a recent phenomenon but dates back now almost two decades--is [you have] access to what you want, when you want it. Gone are the days, on the fashion side of things where retailers told you, ‘here’s the new stuff for fall,’ and then ‘here’s the new stuff for spring,’ and you bought it when they put it out.”

With the ease of purchasing items online or on mobile, and having them delivered directly to your doorstep, consumers have grown accustomed to instant gratification shopping. No longer is there any need to wait for a retailer to tell you when to shop. It makes sense, then, why shoppers are now more inclined to add an item or two for themselves while holiday shopping for others.

Millennials Lead the Charge in Self-Gifting

Unsurprisingly, the cohort of consumers leading the charge in self-gifting are Millennials. According to a 2015 study, consumers under the age of 35 were 40% more likely that Gen Xers or Baby Boomers to self-gift. The popularity of the #TreatYourself hashtag is evidence of this.

This generation already has a reputation of being more spontaneous and self-indulgent--not to mention obsessed with the immediacy of the internet. For them, self-gifting is a natural part of the holidays; an earned reward for getting through another year. It’s also more likely to happen online among Millennials rather than in brick-and-mortar locations--a place with even less friction (and potential judgement) for adding an extra item for yourself to the shopping cart.

How Brands Embrace Self-Gifting During the Holidays

Over the years, we’ve seen brands tap into the trend of self-gifting to engage their customers in new ways during the holidays. Lexus’ holiday ads, which regularly feature cars being gifted to an unsuspecting recipient (do you recall those massive, red bows?) are great examples of this because hardly ever do people receive such a big ticket item as a gift. Two commercials that embody this trend best include their recent “Auntie” ad and this one. U.K. retailer, Harvey Nichols, also embraced this concept in a rather humorous ad a few years back. And even Starbucks has offered holiday discounts with a “one for you, one to share” slogan.

While we look forward to seeing how self-gifting comes to life this holiday season, it’s clear that consumers today are making their holiday purchases in more ways, and for more reasons, than ever before. Marketers should keep this trend in mind when creating their holiday messaging in order to engage and resonate consumers during all of their shopping trips.

Also, it’s never too late to brush up on the holiday trends already taking shape! In case you missed it, download Pandora’s 2017 Holiday Shopping Trends eBook full of need-to-know stats and learnings on when and where people do their holiday shopping and gift-giving.

Sources: [1] Deloitte, 2017 Holiday Retail Survey, September 2017