The process of giving gifts in the United States is one that heavily depends on the emotional mindset of both givers and receivers. Individuals that are giving gifts to others place a lot of weight on the "moment of unwrapping," while receivers of gifts find more value in the usefulness or versatility of a gift in the long run. The types of gifts that people most often receive tend to be generalized or multi-purposed gifts, such as gift cards, money, and/or clothes. This trend has remained relatively stable over the past 5 years, with clothing, electronics, and gift cards continuously ranking as one of the top 5 gifts being given and received. The popularity of experiential gifts started to become more popular in 2013 with Millennials and continued growth in this area has been present ever since. Macrotrends that have emerged around the giving of such gifts include the use of social media for gifting, automation, and customization/personalization. Below you will find a breakdown of the methodology used for determining this information, emotional factors that affect gift giving and receiving in the U.S., as well as a breakdown of trends in gifting over the past 5 years and the three major macrotrends that occur in gift-giving as a whole.
In order to determine the emotional drivers of gift givers and receivers in the U.S., a scientific study that was completed in 2016 through the Association of Psychological Science was consulted. Additional online articles and blogs were used as support for this study to provide supplementary information for gifting habits, and for opinions of receiving gifts according to the general public. The most popular categories of gifts that were given between 2013 and 2017 were determined through a combination of Deloitte's annual holiday surveys, and through articles from Reporter Magazine, USA Today, Forbes, and The Fiscal Times. This information was then used to determine changes and trends in the types of gifts that have been given over the past 5 years. Macrotrends of gifting in the U.S. were concluded based on the occurrence of keywords (social media, technology, personalization, etc.) in articles from Science Daily, USC, Inc.com, the Miami Herald, and Business Wire, as well as from the general trends seen in gifting habits over the past 5 years.
GIVERS & GIVING GIFTS
Gift givers in the U.S. place a lot of weight on the initial reaction of the receiver of their gift once they have been given a gift. This means that, while shopping, gift givers are often focused on producing the most positive reaction from the gift receiver, and thus direct their time to searching for a gift that will generate immediate satisfaction. Upon giving someone a gift and seeing that they were happy with it, givers often feel some sort of self-acheivement or comfort in what they did. Sometimes this can lead to givers purchasing gifts that might not be useful to the receiver in the long run, and thus might seem less thoughtful to the receiver. This can sometimes be perceived as a lack of interest in the gift giver, even though the goal was to provide immediate fulfillment.
Gift givers prefer to give gifts that are tailored to the receiver. In situations in which this is unclear, gift cards tend to be the most popular gifts. These show the receiver that the giver is informed of what the receiver generally likes, but provides the receiver the ability to choose what they would most prefer as a gift from a specific location. "Fun" or practical gifts are not preferred by givers, as they believe that these sorts of items will not show true appreciation for the receiver. This same idea goes for socially responsible gifts, such as charity donations in the recipient's name, as the receiver cannot physically make use of the gift. For these reasons, material gifts that provide immediate use or satisfaction for the receiver are the most popular types of gifts among givers.
RECEIVERS & RECEIVING GIFTS
Receivers of gifts are generally expecting items that will symbolize the extent of the relationship between themselves and the giver. For this reason, receivers of gifts most often prefer items that provide long-term satisfaction, use, or value. Items that fall under this category are considered to be more thoughtful and of higher-quality by the receiver, and show the amount of effort put in by the giver. More expensive gifts do not necessarily count as more thoughtful gifts, unless they are versatile and meaningful. Gift cards are popular among receivers since they can often be used anywhere and allow the receiver to choose a gift on their own.
According to the article by the Association of Psychological Science, the preference for experiential gifts by receivers has seen growth in recent years, as these types of gifts are considered to be both thoughtful and functional. However, gift givers are known for avoiding giving such gifts, as more times than not, these gifts cannot be used immediately. Gift receivers are known to be less satisfied with a gift in which they cannot immediately understand the purpose or value in. Even in the case in which a gift was initially appreciated, as time passes from the moment of receiving a gift, receivers tend to become less satisfied with an item.
Types of Gifts
GIFT RANKINGS: 2013-2017
For the most part, the process of gifting in the United States is correlated with traditional values. 92% of Americans in 2016 reported that they observe the holidays in some way or another, and that the tradition of gifting would be difficult to break. According to Deloitte in 2017, the most popular types of gifts purchased by givers were as follows:
5. Books: 36%
8. Jewelry: 26%
9. Money: 25%
Of the gift cards purchased in 2017, Amazon gift cards were the most popular. Gifters purchased an average of 14.7 gifts for around $430 in 2017. Of these gifters, 27% also reported preferring to buy gifts that would provide the receiver with an experience. The top three most preferred gifts in 2017 by receivers were:
3. Cash: 36%
In 2016, gift givers spent an average of $329 on all of their gifts, buying approximately 14 gifts in total. 26% of gifters reported planning to host or attend holiday events with friends and families instead of purchasing gifts. The most popular gifts to be purchased by givers in 2016 were as follows:
4. Books: 35%
7. Money: 25%
9. Jewelry: 16%
The three most preferred gifts by receivers in 2016 were gift cards (40%), electronics (40%), and cash (40%). Electronic gifts in 2016 most often included items such as computers, mobile devices, home electronic items, wearable technology, and gaming consoles. During 2016, around 33% of gift givers purchased items that were on sale or part of a promotion. However, a total of 77% of gift givers mentioned that they would be taking advantage of sales at some point during the holiday season to buy gifts. In a survey completed by StubHub in 2016, 75% of participants that were planning to give experiential gifts stated that they wanted to provide their recipients with an "unforgettable experience."
In 2015 the average gift-buyer bought 13.7 gifts and spent a total of $458. According to Deloitte, the most popular gifts by givers in 2015 were as follows:
6. Books: 30%
7. Money: 29%
8. Jewelry: 22%
10: CDs/DVDs: 21%
Gift cards have remained a widely popular gift in the U.S., and in 2015, the most popular brands/store gift cards purchased were:
1. Visa gift cards
2. Amazon gift cards
3. American Express gift cards
4. iTunes gift cards
5. Walmart gift cards
6. Target gift cards
7. Starbucks gift cards
8. Netflix gift cards
9. eBay gift cards
10: Google Play gift cards
In 2014, consumers bought an average of 13.4 gifts per buyer, spending approximately $458 all together. 69% of these gift-buyers mentioned that they were originally planning to spend more than they did in 2013 due to upward trends in the economy. Many people stated that clothing and gift cards were the gifts that they were most likely to give, but that they were mostly hoping to receive gift cards and cash as gifts for themselves. The most popular gifts that people wanted to give in 2014 according to Deloitte were as follows:
3. Books: 31%
6. Money: 27%
8. Jewelry: 20%
10: Shoes: 15%
The most popular gifts that people wanted to receive in 2014 were:
2. Money: 35%
4. Books: 26%
7. Jewelry: 15%
9. Shoes: 15%
11: Games/toys: 6%
People in 2014 also indicated that they were interested in receiving customized or personalized gifts, and Millennials noted that they were open to receiving experiential gifts over material ones. In 2013, gifters purchased an average of 12.9 gifts and spent around $421 on these gifts. 37% of people in 2013 reported that cash was the number-one gift that they wanted to receive. The most popular gifts purchased by givers in 2013 were as follows:
4. Books: 30%
5. Money: 27%
10: Jewelry: 18%
OVERALL CHANGES TRENDS IN GIFTING
Based on the data above from 2013 through 2017, it is visible that the preference for gift cards — both for giving and receiving — has remained relatively stable. Clothes and gift cards have, for the most part, remained the top two gifts for purchasing (except for in 2014, where money was the second most popular, followed by clothing). However, between 2015 and 2016 and onward, few to no people reported that they were planning to purchase and give CDs/DVDs as gifts anymore. Additionally, electronics as a preferred gift to purchase was not present in 2014 from Deloitte's data, but in 2013 and 2015, the preference for electronics was both present and saw an increase in popularity. Computer/video games are also no longer widely popular for gifting, while the preference for purchasing books as gifts has increased over the past 5 years. Money as a gift has remained present and relatively stable over the past 5 years, as well.
SOCIAL MEDIA AS A CHANNEL FOR GIFTING
With the growth of social media on a global scale, online gift-giving has grown more popular in recent years. Social media gift-giving includes purchasing items through social media and giving them to others, both online and in-person. Around half of the gifts that are purchased through online social media are ones that physically cannot be given offline or in-person. The use of social media sites for gifting is also creating a greater awareness for gift-worthy occasions in the public eye.
For example, the use of Facebook as a channel for giving gifts has increased the awareness of birthdays and other special events among friends, causing individuals to feel more giving. 56% of individuals who have received gifts on Facebook for their birthdays reported being likely to do the same for other friends of theirs through Facebook on their birthdays. 58% of individuals who have given someone an online gift through Facebook also reported that they would be willing to give that same person an offline gift, but 42% report that doing so would have been more difficult than sending a gift through Facebook. The use of Facebook for gift giving is especially popular among people age 45 to 64, but Millennials who have received gifts through Facebook reported that they would now be more likely to do the same for their friends in the future.
According to Deloitte, in 2013, 29% of shoppers reported using their smartphones to access social networks for holiday shopping, compared with 30% doing the same with a tablet. By 2017, 36% of shoppers reported that they will be using social networks on their smartphones for holiday shopping, and 20% would be doing the same on a desktop/laptop computer. This increase shows that the present of social media is seeing major growth in the U.S. for holiday shopping, and this trend is likely to continue in coming years.
The presence of automated pathways for gift-giving in the U.S. is most largely noticeable within Amazon, Google, and BestBuy. In 2017, President Donal Trump granted Amazon permission to produce and use drones that would fly the skies of the U.S. to deliver packages directly to a buyer's doorstep within 30 minutes of a purchase. In terms of gift-giving, this means that delivery times might not longer be a factor when trying to decide what gift to purchase for their receivers.
Google has been working to acquire robots from companies that would allow the company to automate part of their supply chain for the shipment and delivery of goods. These robots include self-driving cars that, in the future, would be able to deliver products to buyers in real-time after purchasing.
BestBuy, in conjunction with Zynga, has worked to produce a real BestBuy store in the online game produced by Zynga called "CityVille." Players of the game can build BestBuy stores in the game, and can shop the store and purchase items that will be delivered to them in real-life, even though they were purchased within the game. This process is working to unite the popularity of gaming with the real world to encourage purchases.
Customized key chains, mugs, and other small items were the first items that heavily began the personalization trend in the U.S. in 2014, according to Deloitte. These types of gifts, although simple, show long-term use, versatility, and appreciation due to the customization, which is an aspect of gifting that was noted to be of the utmost importance to receivers by the Association of Psychological Science in 2016. On a global scale, the market for personalized gifts is currently valued at $20.46 billion, and is expected to reach $31.63 billion by 2021.
Gift-giving in the U.S. has remained relatively stable over the past 5 years in terms of the types of gifts that are most widely purchased and received. There is, however, a growing popularity for gifts among receivers that are versatile, offer long-term value, or even offer an experience to produce memories in place of physical products. Gift cards, clothing, and electronics remain the most popular types of gifts, and gift cards are often gifted with the intention of allowing receivers to purchase something that will bring them the most happiness, whether that be a physical product or an experience. The macrotrend of social media applications — such as Facebook — for giving gifts is also growing to be more popular, as it allows gifters to express the importance of someone that they do not have the ability to physically see and give a gift to. Automated processes for delivering gifts is also becoming more noticeable, as the mechanism eliminates the hurdle of delivery times. This process further allows givers to focus on choosing a gift that will bring happiness to the receiver without having to worry about timing. Personalized gifts show the importance of the relationship between a gift giver and receiver, and also present the opportunity to give more versatile gifts.