Making a List: Who Are Shoppers Buying for this Holiday Season?

Making a List: Who Are Shoppers Buying for this Holiday Season?

In the frenzy leading up to the holidays, retailers focus on who’s coming to the stores, what they’re buying, where they’re spending and when they’re shopping. But such a consumer-focused view misses the “why” behind holiday shopping—giving gifts.

Unlike the rest of the year, when many shoppers’ purchases are for themselves or their families, the holidays see people spend big for others. So who are U.S. consumers shopping for this holiday season?

Family and Friends First

The holidays are when many people spend time with family and friends. In fact, according to a recent online Nielsen survey, visiting relatives and close friends are most likely to put people in the festive spirit, second to seeing decorations outside of homes. So it’s no surprise that those closest to shoppers are at the top of gift lists this season. A whopping 80% of respondents to a recent survey say they plan to shop for immediate family members. And shoppers spend a majority of their holiday budget on gifts for these loved ones: 45% of respondents say they plan to spend $125 or more on immediate family members.

Many shoppers will also pick up presents for friends and extended family members (including grandparents, cousins, etc.). Almost half of respondents say they plan to shop for friends, while 25% plan to shop for extended family. However, shoppers are much less generous with those outside their immediate family. Most of those shopping for friends plan to spend less than $50. For extended family, it likely depends on how close families are; these shoppers are most likely to spend between $25 and $50, but they’re next most likely to spend $125 or more, similar to spending for immediate family.

Gifts for family and friends are varied, with apparel, food, electronics and gift cards topping shopping lists. But toys are still a gift-wrapped mainstay. Just over half of American adults (51%) plan to purchase toys as gifts this year. Not surprisingly, parents of children under the age of 18 are twice as likely to buy toys as those without kids under 18 (82% vs. 41%, respectively). Those with young children (age 9 or under) or tweens (ages 10-12) are more likely than those with teens (ages 13-17) to plan to purchase toys this holiday season (90% or 88% vs. 67%, respectively).

Furry Family (and Friends) Too

Toys are not just for children of the two-legged variety, however. Six-in-10 Americans are pet owners, with a large majority owning either a dog (65%) or a cat (53%). In addition to buying holiday gifts for important people in their lives, 24% of respondents to another Nielsen holiday online survey of 1,143 adults (28% of women and 20% of men) plan to shop for their furry, scaly, finned or feathered “children” this year. Most consumers polled planned to spend $10-$25 on their pets.

And it’s not just pet parents buying: 13% of those who do not even have a pet still plan to purchase toys for one this season! This is part of a larger trend showing the pet industry expanding around the world. Global online purchase intentions for the pet category have doubled in two years from 9% in 2012 to 21% in 2014. Although the category includes pet food, pet medications and pet apparel as well as toys, this statistic has big implications for the holidays.

Giving Thanks

The holidays are also the time when many shoppers express their gratitude for those who help all year. Rounding out consumers’ gift lists this season are charities (19% of respondents); colleagues (12%); service providers like mail carriers, repairmen, doormen, etc. (10%); teachers, child care providers, babysitters, nannies, etc. (8%); and pet care providers like doggy daycare, pet walkers, etc. (3%).


The insights from this article were culled from a number of Nielsen sources:

  • A recent English-language holiday online Harris Poll of 2,205 U.S. adults between Oct. 15 and 20, 2014.
  • A recent English-language holiday online Nielsen survey of 1,143 adults fielded at the end of October.
  • A recent global online e-commerce Nielsen survey of more than 30,000 respondents in 60 countries.