The New Age of Meaningful Gift Giving
By Anya Cheng of Taelor
As tireless marketers attempt to work their magic in manipulating consumer behavior, emails from retailers, in-store decor, and product launches are full of holiday cheer – before the clock strikes Thanksgiving. Consumer behavior will be interesting to observe this season, given all of the economic turmoil they have experienced. There is no question that the continuous post-pandemic roller coaster will have an impact on holiday shopping and budgets, primarily due to the fact that we as a society have evolved, emerging with new priorities, jobs, incomes, homes, and needs.
Industry leaders are not only predicting – but fully endorsing – a movement towards experiential, sustainable, and long-lasting gift-giving that minimizes spending on material items. Younger generations are driving a lot of momentum towards experience-based investments, those that show value in access over ownership, and may even play a role in reducing the carbon footprint. Given all of the changes society has both witnessed and endured, the shock, awe, and impact of opening a sweater, a candle, or an iPad just doesn’t carry the same meaning as a trip voucher or a cooking class.
Let’s explore the various categories that are likely to – and frankly speaking, should – dominate holiday sales this year.
Maybe in part due to the fact that we were separated from friends and family for so long, but trends are showing increased consumer activity in travel and activity. Despite the inflation surge, consumers spent roughly 18% more this past year than the two prior. The popularity of businesses like AirBnb, Netflix, and Rent the Runway show a shift in preference towards access over ownership.
In an instance where gifts do fall under the category of ‘physical items,’ the gifts themselves tend to go hand in hand with an experience or activity. Giftpack, an AI-powered corporate gifting solution, shared that physical gifts that enabled various life experiences grew 24.7% in popularity in 2022; things like gardening tools, hiking equipment, or painting supplies hovered at the top of the list.
Many of us have lived rich lives full of abundance, which begs the question: what do you give someone who has everything they need? This thought may indicate that it’s time to think outside of the boundaries of traditional physical retail purchases.
Younger generations are leading the way in standing for positive climate change and environmentally-friendly initiatives. There are simple steps any individual consumer can take to reduce the negative impact holiday shopping and gifting may have on the environment:
- DIY gifting such as framed photos, jewelry, cookbooks, knitting, or personal art pieces
- Utilizing reusable bags when shopping
- Avoiding gifts that are over-packaged
- Reusing gift bags, or making the gift “wrap” part of the gift, i.e. a basket
- Giving experiential gifts, i.e. concert tickets, museum passes, dinner reservations, clothing rental subscriptions, personal styling services, etc.
Far too often, we spend unnecessary amounts of money on last-minute gift items just for the sake of having something physical to present, and the nature of last-minute shopping almost always demands a greater sacrifice from the environment. In 2018, the USPS delivered 6.2 billion packages, 900 million of which fell between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day – simply put, 14.5% of all deliveries occur within a one month span. And from my years leading eCommerce teams at Target, those last-minute gifts tend to get returned, exchanged, or even just forgotten or never used.
The goal is to help consumers shift their mindset and preparation for the holiday season. Many of the gifts that classify as sustainable can be delivered via email, or picked up in conjunction with another errand, as opposed to a separate trip, delivery, or shipment. Compounding the issue is the reality that many of us ultimately return material items we didn’t ask for, nor do we need, resulting in additional environmental strain by means of return deliveries and trips to stores. We have to also consider the likelihood that many of these items sit on our shelves collecting dust until they wind up in a landfill.
Look beyond gifts that offer the all-too-familiar-and-addictive dopamine release on more than one occasion. The element of surprise and joy in opening physical gifts is real, valid, and significant. Consider, however, gifting options that allow the recipient’s enjoyment to continue beyond that moment. When investing in fashion, select brands that are reputable for quality production and longevity.
Gifts that can modularize provide a longer lifeline, in addition to a lesser impact on the environment. Over the years, individual parts may need repair or replacement, without needing to dispose of the item. Beyond physical items – whether a gym membership, streaming service, or clothing rental subscription – these options are not only sustainable and lead to expanded experiences, but they have a long-lasting effect.
Life as we know it has changed and evolved over the past few years, and in some categories, habits and behaviors are still slow to catch up. From shifting into a remote or hybrid work world, to increased efforts to fight climate change, the needs and wants of any individual have seen a parallel shift as well.
Individuals, families, and corporations spend such significant amounts of money on gifting this time of year – so much that there’s the potential for massive impact on economical and environmental trends. Given the large budgets allocated for gift giving within corporations in particular, there’s a huge opportunity for change if they move away from fancy headphones and towards experiential, sustainable, and long-lasting gift options.
The good news – things seem to be trending in the right direction. Data from 2022 shows that top 5 most commonly searched terms on Giftpack’s marketplace were “mental health,” (28%) “outdoors,” (23%) “fitness,” (19%) “alcohol” (17%) “travel,” (9%) and “technology.” (4%)
Looking Forward to Meaningful Gift Giving
As we all sit down to make our lists, both for wishes and things to buy, we must keep in mind the possibility of making a true impact. Not only can this shift be a positive one for the environment, but it’s a chance to deepen the meaning of the holidays with loved ones by stretching our imaginations around what it means to give and receive in the spirit of the season.
About the Author
Anya Cheng is the founder and CEO of Taelor, a sustainable men’s clothing rental subscription box and the former Product Head of Target, eBay and Meta. You can learn more about Taelor at https://taelor.style.