Four 2015 Twists to Holiday Shopping

2015 holiday shopping: consumers have gotten crafty — in more ways than one.

Posted Nov 23, 2015

In many ways holiday shopping will be the same as every other year. We'll stress, spend, regret and rejoice. But in these four ways what we want and how we'll buy are unique to our new technified lives. Not just because technology offers us new ways to shop but also because our use of technology has changed our psychology and consequently what we crave.

1. Virtual and Real Shopping Worlds Are United

Consumers won’t be shopping online or in stores this year — they’ll be browsing, researching and buying in both.  Shopping is no longer an either/or, which/when equation.  It is simply both — always.  Our lives have long been a combination of both online and real-world experiences.  This is the year when our virtual and real shopping worlds become as integrated as the rest of our lives.  

In research that I’ve conducted about technology-enabled shopping, consumers have told me that they wish they could get a little more of the convenience of online shopping (things like inventory information, fast check-out, easier searching and social media validation) when they’re in stores.  And when they’re online they wish they could get a little more service and a better sense of fit and quality.  Many retailers have beefed-up technology in both worlds to satisfy those needs.  This comes just when mainstream shoppers (not just techies and Millennials) are overwhelmingly ready to take advantage of technology-enabled solutions.

Since there’s still no substitute for Santa, shoppers will visit malls for that essential wish list chat and photo session and to enjoy holiday windows, a whiff of pine and all the other traditional allures of holiday shopping.  But with the exception of Black Friday and every Saturday between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, shopping centers will be less crowded than in previous years.  Generally speaking, consumers will be shopping more often both online and in stores, but in shorter bursts of time.  And mall traffic will be diluted as the result of not just more online buying, but also because consumers started their holiday shopping earlier than ever this year.

Still, plenty of shoppers have retained their appetite for competitive sport shopping and you can still expect the madness of the crowds during door-buster events.  Sleep deprivation + crowds + FOMO (fear of missing out) = a high potential for insanity, competitiveness, buyer’s remorse and bad behavior.

2.  Consumers Have Gotten Crafty

Thanks to inspiration from visually potent websites like Pinterest and Instagram, Christmas cookies won’t be the only homemade gifts being given this year.  Inspired consumers are whipping up things like homemade jam, crafty earrings, knitted ditties, spice rubs and bath salt concoctions to give as holiday gifts.  Those who lack the talent, time or inspiration to create their own homemade gifts will let others do the work and purchase from websites such as Easy and Handcrafted on Amazon.

Why the trend toward homemade, handcrafted gifts?  They’re the anti-gift card: something unique and special that feels more personal to the giver and hopefully to the receiver too.  Handcrafted is also the antidote to our increasingly virtual lives.  It feels more real and more authentic.  And lastly, there’s the previously mentioned social media inspiration.

3.  Experiential Gifts Are Gaining on Ties and Sweaters

Every tangible gift has intangible, experiential components such as the experience of anticipation, the emotions associated with using the gift and the enhancement of life or mood or confidence because of the new “thing.”  Ginger told me that she experiences a thrill whenever she looks at the woven gold bracelet her husband gave her the first Christmas they were dating.  “Yes, it’s beautiful and I enjoy wearing it in its own right,” Ginger says, “but when I look at it I also remember every bit of the excitement I felt when he gave it to me.”

When we reach acquisition saturation the impact of those emotions diminishes.  So, for example, if Ginger’s husband gave her a new bracelet every weekend it’s unlikely any of them could match the emotional resonance of that initial gift.  Many feel like they simply have too much and the thrill of the new has lost it’s punch.  Additionally, this past year, simplification and stuff-purging became a new religion for some and, at the very least, a message to consider for most.

Enter the experience gift as the solution to bloated lifestyles and as a way to get the emotional lift of a tangible gift without baggage.

There is another reason why experience gifts are increasingly valued.  Social media has given gift recipients the opportunity to share (or for some show-off) their gifts with others which adds a sense of permanence to experiential gifts and increases their social value.

4. Self-Gifting is On the Rise

The National Retail Federation notes that what we’ll spend on gifts to ourselves is outpacing what we’ll spend on gifts for others.  There are several reasons why this isn’t just greed in action.  The holidays have developed quite a reputation as the best time of the year to buy.  Consumers tell me they find better merchandise selection, better inventory (as in it’s more likely to be in stock), and better prices during the holiday shopping season.  Shoppers are no longer tied to traditional purchasing seasons.  For example, they don’t feel compelled to buy a winter coat before it gets cold just because that’s when retailers have traditionally stocked and sold them.  They literally have a  world of merchandise to choose from and therefore enjoy buying when the need or craving hits them.  Many now plan purchases around the time of the year when they feel they’ll have the best price and selection — and that’s the holiday season.  It’s more a case of smart and opportunistic shopping than “self-gifting.”

There are other, more traditional reasons for buying more for ourselves during the holiday shopping season.  People entertain and socialize more during the holidays and want to fluff out their homes and wardrobes.  Also, consumers were more judicious purchasers last year so there’s some pent-up demand that’ll be released during the holiday season.  In short, people are gifting themselves with electronics, fashions, home decor that they delayed purchasing earlier in the year because prices, inventory and selection are renowned during the holidays.

Our use of technology has impacted more than our ability to compare prices on our mobile phones while we’re in stores.  It’s influenced our psychology.  Shoppers are more empowered and wily which means they shop for what they want when they want it, spreading out shopping seasons and resulting in more holiday self-gifting.  It’s a power and mentality that’s also forced retailers to be more accommodating than ever, offering better integration of online and in-store shopping.  This year’s burgeoning interest in homemade and experiential gifts is also related to our new technology-infused psychology: a craving for emotional impact, simplicity and authenticity.