When discussing holiday gift-giving, Trish Sexton of Levittown, Pa., sounds a little like a Hallmark card.
“It’s really about making memories,” said Sexton, a court reporter, as she rolled through a bustling shopping center. “As opposed to a pile of clothes that they’re not going to wear next year, you never outgrow your memories.”
Sexton is putting her words into practice. This Christmas, she’s giving her teenage daughters and 12-year-old son tickets to see Taylor Swift at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field next summer and tickets to see the Broadway show “Stomp” this month at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia.
“This is the first year that I am going with experiences rather than just material items,” Sexton said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Just as retailers scramble to offer the best in-store experience to attract customers, about 40 percent of shoppers this holiday season plan to give “experiences,” according to a survey this month by the NPD Group, a global research firm.
Chalk it up to consumers wanting to be more adventurous, or memorable, but “experiential gift-giving” is in this year.
Food, including dinners and wine tastings, topped the NPD survey list, with tickets to events coming in second. Next were spa certificates, travel, interactive experiences (like murder-mystery dinners), gym memberships, sightseeing tours, and adventure and educational experiences, according to the firm’s 2017 Holiday Purchase Intentions Survey.
“Giving an intangible gift, an experience, can be more personal and more memorable for the gift recipient, and in many ways easier for the gift-giver, making them an ideal holiday gift solution for many consumers,” Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for NPD, said in a statement.
Also, 7 percent of shoppers plan to buy a subscription box or service. In this category, food subscriptions ranked highest, followed by beverages, electronics, health and fitness, fashion, and beauty and grooming subscriptions.
Politics, bad news may be reason
Retail experts say the zest for experiences may be a response to the toxic political environment and barrage of bad news.
“Many people are feeling overwhelmed by what seems like an unusually large number of tragedies, natural disasters, and political turmoil,” said James Cook, Americas director of research and retail at Jones Lang LaSalle. “When one gives an experience instead of an object, they are giving the gift of escape from the stresses of the world.”
Retailers are creating “an environment that’s almost an escape from reality,” Cook said. “The best new retail stores and flagships create a little oasis away from the problems of the world.”
David Gorelick, head of retail for the Americas for Cushman & Wakefield, said: “The younger generation places more interest on experiences like concerts, dining, and other events, consistent with what you’re hearing.
“Now more than ever, brands in all sectors need to identify ways to connect with their client across all the different and emerging platforms and channels in a more meaningful, nuanced way. The ones that do will continue to be successful.”
Reputation.com, which ranks the best brands for in-store experiences, last month came out with its 2017 Retail Reputation Report, ranking the best brands for in-store experience on nine criteria at 28 national retailers. These criteria include value, service, wait times, cleanliness, convenience, product availability, staff competence, and parking.
The survey ranked the Lego Store, Disney Store, Athleta, Lululemon, and Nordstrom as the overall top five.
Buying experiential gifts and subscription services this holiday season is strongest among Gen Z (born from the mid-1990s to mid-2000s) and millennial shoppers, according to the NPD report, and households with children and annual incomes over $75,000.