Can guilt-gifting and self-gifting save holiday selling?

@lelia_milaya via Twenty20
Dec 18, 2020

A bright spot in an expected subdued holiday selling season, according to The NPD Group, will be sales from consumers looking to splurge on themselves after a tough year and/or looking to splurge on others out of guilt for missing in-person celebrations.

“Splurges on both ‘guilt-gifting’ and self-gifting will be significant components of the consumer’s retail therapy during Holiday 2020,” said Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry advisor, retail, in a statement.

Predictions of the trends are supported by findings from NPD’s annual holiday purchase intentions study:

  • Forty percent of consumers indicated that, as a result of COVID-19, they will buy more gifts to bring joy during challenging times;
  • Three in 10 are planning to spend more than last year because they have fewer expenses related to activities like dining out and travel;
  • More than 40 percent will be shipping most of their gifts because they won’t be seeing family and friends as a result of COVID-19 precautions.

A survey from NextAdvisor found parents with kids under 18 are most likely to feel pressure to spend more than they can afford this year due to the disruptions their kids have faced. Farnoosh Torabi, contributing editor at NextAdvisor, said in a statement, “The holidays may feel like the final chance to make 2020 feel like it wasn’t a total bummer — especially for our kids who missed out on the normal childhood experiences.”

Groupon’s holiday survey found nearly 70 percent of Americans say they’re more appreciative of family and friends as a result of 2020’s challenges and 67 percent are more determined than ever to give their loved ones the perfect gift this year.

Self-gifting is expected to climb, according a few holiday surveys, as people look to treat themselves more for all they’ve missed out on in 2020. According to Groupon’s survey, self-gifting is expected to expand 35 percent. The average person plans to buy themselves six gifts, with the top self-gifts identified as dinner, clothes, staycation/road trip, wine delivery and spa packages.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does it make sense that guilt-gifting and self-gifting will be prevalent this holiday season? How can retailers capitalize on the retail therapy trends?

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14 Comments on "Can guilt-gifting and self-gifting save holiday selling?"

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Georganne Bender

Guilt-gifting is a thing? I missed that memo. But I can understand the need to fill a holiday void with extra gifts. Christmas via Zoom isn’t that intriguing but that’s where we are.

Self-gifting has been big for a while now and store displays and signing are set to encourage it. Both retailers and restaurateurs continue to offer bonus gift cards, a la buy a $50 gift card and get a $10 card for yourself. They do this because it works. Who doesn’t like a little something for themselves?

Dave Bruno

Sorry it took me a little while to comment on this post, Tom, I was shopping for a new 65″ UHD television for my new man cave, and I guess I lost track of time! Seriously, though, I definitely think people are self-gifting and, as always, the key to winning share is by delivering experiences that meet shopper expectations. This year the expectations now include safety, of course, and flexibility (e.g., curbside pickup).

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

If this were to happen it should have already been evident. With all the messages about delays in delivery, all the messages about shipping early, and all the messages about delays in whatever is scheduled, if people were going to buy more it should have happened. Maybe those planning to buy gifts for themselves will buy them during sales after the holidays.

Lisa Goller

Pandemic or otherwise, guilt-gifting and self-gifting are our ancient family traditions. That’s how we roll. To capitalize on retail therapy, retailer marketing can whisper that consumers deserve indulgences, self-care and comfort. (Like that baby blue cashmere shawl that’s been on my Amazon wish list all year. Giddy-up!)

Patricia Vekich Waldron

For those who can afford it, buying gifts that comfort someone or oneself is not surprising given the year we’ve had. I hope many of these gifts come from local, small or indie retailers who really need the support.

David Naumann
David Naumann
Marketing Strategy Lead - Retail, Travel & Distribution, Verizon
1 year 6 months ago

There is no doubt that guilt-gifting is a real deal. I have heard several parents say that they are planning to give more gifts or more expensive gifts to help offset this horrible year. Guilt-gifting and self-gifting will help offset another big segment – the unemployed or under-employed consumers that can’t afford to spend as much on gifts this year. I haven’t noticed any ad campaigns that have focused on guilt-gifting or self-gifting, but it seems like it would resonate with a fairly large segment of our population.

Ralph Jacobson

Guilt-gifting and self-gifting have been on the rise for years and they will certainly push this holiday season’s revenues to new heights, I believe. Although I have no data to support this, my guess is that 50 percent of all Black Friday, Cyber Monday, etc. purchases are ultimately gifts for the purchaser. Promoting these sentiments are yet another great message to shoppers regardless of retailer.

Gene Detroyer

It sounds like wishful thinking to me.

Go back to the basics. How much money do people have in their pockets? No matter what or how they buy, that is the foundation for the holiday season.

Even look at the statistic in the discussion,” three in 10 are planning to spend more than last year.” Doesn’t that mean seven in 10 are NOT looking to spend more than last year?


WOW someone that gets it! Thanks Gene for your logical comment regarding the amount of money the average American can afford for spending pleasures.

Ryan Mathews

First of all retail is doing just fine this year, so I’m not sure it is need of rescuing. Second, every sale helps.

Cynthia Holcomb

Living and working from home has its wonders! Time has a new COVID-19 cadence — COVID time. The new human experience of time, luring one to contemplate and reflect upon the many, many aspects of one’s own personal thoughts and feelings. Also known as emotion. Emotions then powered by a holiday season fueling sentimentality towards one’s relationships and a keen nostalgia for times past. The human soul guided by emotion, non-rational thinking, has turned to various forms of gifting as a satisfying antidote to express endearment to family, friends, and self.

The wise retailer publishes inspirational gift guides based upon an authentic understanding of the invisible sentimentality specific to their customers. Invisible sentimentality is not found in technical modeling of data nor a mathematical measurement. Rather it is a human-based retailer understanding of the underpinnings of how and why their customer makes the decision to purchase.


As an “Average American” grunt worker and not a CEO or high-end executive, I will NOT be spending anything this holiday season – not one penny. I lost my job in the food industry due to COVID-19 and ended up in my current position two months ago. I am struggling to make ends meet and pay for the basics: mortgage, food and utilities. My gift-giving to myself will include nothing. It would be nice if you bothered to tip me for doing your grocery shopping and loading those groceries in your car so that you don’t have to risk contracting COVID-19 in the store, while I do. In fact, three of my co-workers recently tested positive. As for the rest of my family and friends, they too will NOT be spending anything this holiday season. It’s time for the higher-ups to realize the real struggle of the Average Joe.

David Adelman


It’s been an incredibly challenging year for the entire globe, both emotionally and economically. Many children have been trapped inside their homes due to coronavirus, but kids only thrive and grow with social interaction.

Most parents feel guilty that their children can’t go out and play with other kids. I believe that parents will be spoiling them with gifts more than ever this holiday season.

Is it guilt or just parents feeling rotten that their children are stuck inside isolating, not really understanding why? I think perhaps a bit of both.

1 year 5 months ago

I believe guilt-gifting is somewhat of a negative approach to the concept. Sure, the pandemic expanded everybody’s sense of guilt in a way we never thought possible. Besides the guilt of not spending important holidays with your family, there’s the burdening sense of guilt whenever you get out of the house. What if I’m infected and I don’t know it? What if I pass it on to other people?

So I think the key is to help customers get rid of some of the guilt. Where I work, at, we tried the opposite. We advertised our products during the holidays as a form of escapism from the guilt and all that is happening. Moreover, as a form of rewarding yourself for being able to stay strong in these times.

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