Beneath the Trend: A deep dive into generational holiday values

In 2019, we conducted a landmark project in conjunction with 747 Insights and Collaborata to gain a better understanding of Gen Z, Gen Y (Millennials), Gen X, and Boomers in the USA. In every area we considered, it became clear that generational values are shifting at a faster pace than ever before.

In this latest research, we set out to learn people’s thoughts about the holidays and gift giving. What do they value most, and what are their personal opinions about the most hyped time of the year?

Over a few quick days, we interviewed 416 people across four generations using our AI qualitative moderator. We asked participants to share their views on the upcoming holiday season including the ups and the downs, their plans, and their gift-giving philosophies. We then dove into brands and retailers to find out what they can do to make gift giving a better experience for their customers.

What we learned: The holidays are a double-edged sword

The holidays are complicated. It’s an emotional time that we love spending with family and friends, but it’s also a time when sadness and loneliness arise for many. And while the food, decorations and gifts can create a delightful, heartwarming experience, shopping and gifting can feel overwhelming and over-commercialized for many. It can be easy to miss what really matters about the season.

In our research, we found that only 28% of people look forward to receiving gifts, and 17% don’t find the shopping experience to be enjoyable. In fact, 27% of people say that gifts are the least enjoyable thing about the holidays.

So where is this negativity coming from?

Our participants told us people don’t want to spend their hard-earned money buying gifts that people don’t need or want. They want to keep things simple by giving practical or sentimental gifts that evoke or create new memories.

Across all of the possible ways people can shop, only 23% strive to give gifts that people really want, and there are interesting generational differences. Whereas 28% of Gen Z want to give people something they really want, only 16% of Boomers do. Perhaps given their life experience, Boomers have a different idea of what people really need and want.

Also demonstrating a large generational gap, 27% of Gen Z and 23% of Millennials believe gift giving is a good way to show you love and care for each other. But, only 13% of Gen X and 12% of Boomers believe this. Again, it could be a bit of jaded thinking but maybe Boomers are simply letting their wisdom prevail.

“We will continue to curtail spending on excessive and unnecessary gifts. We’ve done this in previous years and it seems to bring more pleasure and less stress to all involved.” —Boomer

“I really want to give the best gifts ever. I wanna make sure they’re all very personal and show how much I love and appreciate the person I’m giving it to.” —Gen Z


Communicating with target audiences

When it comes to identifying what their ideal gift would be, generational differences were again very apparent.

For 27% of Gen Z, money is the ideal gift. Given that many of them are trying to pay off college debt, cash gifts that can be used toward debt repayment or life’s necessities are a major way of reducing stress.

“The gift that would bring me the most joy is financial stability. Obviously that’s a hard gift to give but we can’t pay for my sister’s college, and my mom struggles to pay rent every month so I just want to take that burden away.” — Gen Z

However, among Millennials and Gen X, quality time with family and friends is what matters most. They’re seeking togetherness, fond memories, and meaning in their lives.

The gifts that bring me the most joy are those that lend to an experience instead of a tangible gift. An example would be a ticket to a show, outing or trip.” — Millennial

“Whether it’s a birthday or Christmas or any other holiday, the best thing I want is the tangible presence of the people I love and a sincere hug and words that make me feel loved and valued—nothing more — that’s going beyond heaven for me.” — Gen X

Finally, 22% of Boomers simply want quality time with their family to reflect on great memories. In fact, 9% of Boomers don’t want any material gifts.

“I just want to spend time with my family. I am 72 and time runs out eventually on all of us. I would love a paid cruise to Alaska or somewhere fun. I would even love a Disney cruise vacation. I would want to go with a friend or, better yet, my son and his family. All I would really want is to be included in an experience that could build memories.” — Boomer

“I don’t like anything that is material. My health is the most important thing I would like to receive. To be stronger and have more energy in the coming months would be a blessing.” —Boomer

So what does all this mean for marketers?

Marketers that want to build long-term relationships with their customers need to focus less on the shopping-and-saving messages and more on facilitating interpersonal connections. Find ways to encourage and facilitate family get-togethers. Help people create new memories. Encourage people to celebrate love and friendship. Though gifts can cost a lot of money, or just a little, those gifts that help people connect with family and friends will help make the shopping season even more enjoyable.

There is so much more to discover about how holiday perceptions differ among the four generations. Download the full Beneath the Trend report here or view our summary infographic here, and enjoy!

Beneath the Trend (BTT) is a series of research studies aimed at learning more about consumer and marketing trends. Leveraging Quester’s artificial-intelligence moderator, we conduct 15-minute qualitative conversations with hundreds of people to quickly deliver rich, qualitative insights about a current trend. We’d love to hear your suggestions for the next BTT!


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Quester® is an award-winning strategy and insights firm that harnesses the power of human conversation, artificial intelligence technologies, expert research design, and strategy development to yield superior results for your businessWe specialize in the full life cycle of product innovation, growth, maturity, and decline with a focus on new product research and development, understanding the customer experience, unlocking nuances of retailer and product selection, and identifying drivers of product and category decline. Quester’s awards include an EXPLOR Award from the TMRE and an Ogilvy Award from The ARF. Learn more on our website.


  • Quester

    Quester is an award-winning consumer intelligence firm that harnesses the power of human conversation, artificial intelligence technology, and expert marketing research design to yield superior understanding of consumers for clients.

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