Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Christmas, by the numbers: 5 facts about holiday season spending

Christmas tree with a sale sign in an American shopping mall. Would you go into debt for Christmas?

American consumers will spend more than $1 trillion on Christmas this year, and people around the world will go into debt. Image: REUTERS/Mark Makela

Douglas Broom
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Retail, Consumer Goods and Lifestyle

  • This year, Americans will spend on average $942 on Christmas gifts – $57 more than last year.
  • In some countries, one-fifth of people go into debt to pay for Christmas gifts and festivities.
  • Although eco-awareness is on the rise, half of people would buy the ideal gift no matter the cost to the planet.

It's that time of year again – time to eat, drink, make merry, and shop, shop, shop for gifts.

Here's a look at Christmas by the numbers.

1. Americans will spend over $1 trillion on Christmas this year.

US consumers tell Gallup pollsters they plan to spend an average of $942 on Christmas gifts this year – $57 more than last year. More than one-third say their gift-buying will top $1,000, one-third higher than last year’s top spenders.

Have you read?

Overall, American consumers will spend more than $1 trillion for Christmas this year, with almost $150 billion going to online retailers. The total cost of festive celebrations per household, including food and drink, will be close to $1,500, according to a survey by the consulting firm Deloitte.

When it comes to Christmas, Americans are the world’s biggest spenders. But 7% of Americans say they will not spend anything on Christmas, a figure which includes those who do not celebrate the holiday on principle, or for religious reasons.

American Christmas Spending
Americans' Christmas spending over the last 17 years Image: Gallup

2. One-third of Brits have ‘no idea’ what they spend on presents.

In a poll for lender Ocean Finance, UK Christmas shoppers were asked to recall how much they spent just two minutes after making a purchase – and only 16% could remember the exact amount.

For those who struggle to manage their money, Deloitte forecasts the average spend on presents this year in the UK will be $743 – almost 40% more than consumers in Europe. Online purchases will make up almost half (44%) of all presents purchased.

Some customers still prefer to buy at a physical shop, primarily because they believe it will be easier for recipients to return gifts. Top gift choices for adults include chocolates, cosmetics, perfumes, food and drink. Books top the list for children while sportswear is the fastest growing choice for teens.

Christmas top choices
Top Christmas gifts by gender Image: Deloitte

3. 1 in 7 Europeans get gifts they don’t want.

Christmas may be a time for giving, but not everyone is grateful for the gifts they receive. A survey for Netherlands-based bank ING found 15% of Europeans were unhappy with what gifts they received last year, while 10% couldn’t even remember their gifts.

Although half kept unwanted gifts, a quarter re-gifted them to someone else, 14% sold them and one in 10 took them back to a store. In addition, 5% gave unwanted gifts back to the giver, a habit most popular with the British and the Dutch. But most young people simply threw them away.

US consumer website finder.com found 62% of Americans expect to get an unwanted gift this year – which equals 154 million people receiving presents worth a total of more than $15 billion, half of which will be re-gifted or taken back to the store.

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4. The average American spends 15 hours shopping for Christmas.

Christmas is when Americans spend time with family and friends, right? Wrong! It’s the season for spending hours shopping and standing in checkout queues – and travelling for hours to visit relatives, too.

US customer advocacy group Consumer Reports says Americans spend an average of 15 hours gift shopping – women average 20 hours and men, notorious for leaving gift buying to the last minute, spend 10 hours.

Another three-and-a-half hours are taken up with queuing to pay. Gift wrapping takes three hours. Once Christmas is over, US consumers spend an average of one hour returning unwanted presents to stores.

On the upside, they spend 15 hours attending Christmas parties.

Those who went into debt to pay for Christmas presents
22% of Americans went into debt paying for Christmas Image: ING

5. Two-fifths of Europeans feel forced to spend at Christmas.

For some people, Christmas is a financial strain. ING bank group report that, across Europe, one in 10 borrows or runs up credit-card debt to pay for the festivities. Two-fifths feel pressure to spend more money than they want to at Christmas.

In Romania and the UK, around one-fifth of people spend Christmas in the red, while the people of Luxembourg are least likely to go into debt to finance the festivities. However, 40% of people say Christmas is the one time they spend money without worrying about it.

Almost two in 10 Brits say they think about the environmental impact when choosing gifts and more people are choosing to give fewer presents or make their own. But a survey for packaging maker Raja found almost half say they would buy the perfect gift regardless of the impact on the planet.

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