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Holiday Shopping Trend: The Importance of Thoughtful Gift Giving.

It's beginning to feel a lot like 2008. Just before the housing bubble burst, my audience intelligence team at a prior agency sought to dive deep into the factors driving mom’s shopping decisions. We got lucky when we published our findings that Fall, just as the economy took a turn, because our data helped explain the hard left we took into a recession. At the time, more than half of all respondents said they had to eliminate anything they didn’t feel was absolutely necessary for their lifestyle (65%). Half were generally cutting back on spending and nearly 1 in 3 were seeking new sources of income. 

In 2008, most moms felt Americans had been encouraged to overextend themselves (80%) while another 58% felt the average American was too greedy. Reviewing the data, it feels like we are at the precipice of another correction – whether we call it a recession or not.  

Economic struggles can put a damper on the holidays. According to Nerd Wallet’s 2023 holiday shopper over half of shoppers will not be able to buy as many gifts this year as they would like to (56%) because of inflation.  

Despite financial pressures, more than half of Americans still believe it is important to spend on holiday gifts and celebrations (58%; NRF 2023 Shopping Outlook). In fact, 74% of shoppers plan to put holiday gifts on their credit cards, deferring their debt into 2024 (Nerd Wallet). 

When budgets are tight, thoughtfulness counts more. Actually, it turns out thoughtfulness always counts more. In her NYTimes column, ‘Unpacking the Psychology of Gift-Giving,' Kate Murphy wrote that gifts that show attention, empathy, and spidey sense are best (actually, she said espionage but that felt too ‘dark triad’ for me). She quotes Dr. Julian Givi, an assistant professor of marketing at West Virginia University’s John Chamers College of Business and Economics, “people tend to fall into the trap of not fully putting the recipient first.” 

Showing attention. 

I think a lot about helping people feel like they are seen. To pay attention to a loved one you have to be attentive; noticing what they like or do not like, what they want, or need can be the difference between a successful gift giving experience and a bad one. The easiest way to pay attention to what a person wants for the holidays is to ask them. Notice what is going on in their lives. Many of us think about ourselves when coming up with gift ideas for others. There is nothing wrong with this (well there is but I have made this mistake a thousand times so let's give ourselves a little bit of grace here), but what I like is not the same as what, say, my daughter likes. Look and listen to give a gift that connects. 


Feeling what the other person feels, putting yourself in their shoes, makes for better gifts, too. Consider it the antidote to our tendency to be self-centered when giving gifts. I once had a conversation with a C-suite executive about what is more important, IQ or EQ. I say IQ is table stakes, it is EQ that makes the difference in leadership, life, and business (incidentally, he disagreed with me – to each their own). If paying attention helps you identify the functional gifts you could give, then empathy will help you identify the emotional gifts. Remember something from their childhood, celebrate a meaningful moment from this year, or donate in honor of a foundation that is important to them. Sometimes time spent together is all that is needed to make the holiday memorable. 

Spidey sense. 

It's good to have a little spidey sense, too. Ask other people what your loved one wants for the holidays. Check their closet for worn items. Consider looking at their wish lists or retail page visits (though proceed with caution with this one as you may find out more about the gift they are getting you than the item they want for themselves). Sometime inspiration comes when you least expect it so be open to the universe pointing you in the right direction rather than falling into the sale and quick, one-click shopping rabbit hole. 

How are you reaching your audience during the holiday season? Have you paid attention to your consumers’ needs and wants, are you approaching them with empathy, and are you using your spidey sense to deliver your message in the right context?