Susan Tompor: 'Guilt gifting' is a thing in 2020 as we try to make up for a rough year

By Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Business News

The country is polarized about so many things — the election, the right way to tackle the virus, who you should or shouldn't sit next to at Thanksgiving. So why shouldn't 2020 holiday gift giving join the ever-growing list of potentially hot button topics?

On the one side, you can run into girlfriends or cousins who want to ditch holiday shopping. "Let's just share good wishes, not gifts," they'll say. Makes sense. After all, many consumers suffered job losses, pay cuts or furloughs, shuttered businesses, the loss of loved ones to the coronavirus, and seemingly never-ending anxiety in 2020.

Then again, what's the harm in sending someone a special box of gourmet cookies or coffees out of the blue? Or maybe even splurging by spending $500 or more on a Sony PlayStation 5? Kind of makes sense, too. We could all use a pick-me-up.

What about all those loved ones you just won't be able to visit? Isn't buying a lavish gift a way to make up for the fact that everyone, including your kids, just lived through one miserable year?

Guilt wrapped in a bow

"Guilt gifting" is parked next to online shopping and curbside pickup when it comes to hot holiday trends. About 40% of consumers say they're going to buy more gifts in 2020 to bring joy during challenging times, according to research by the NPD Group.


"I definitely feel like everybody is down this year and it's a way to cheer people up. I do want to bring cheer to people I won't be able to see for a while," said Jennifer Adlhoch, 45.

The Grosse Pointe, Mich., real estate agent has had a phenomenal year selling homes, thanks to "insanely low" interest rates and people reevaluating what they need in a home during stay-in-place guidelines.

Many home buyers this year traded up for a house with office space after jobs went remote and took up shop in their basements or living rooms. Even homes with a pool became a hot commodity in Grosse Pointe, Adlhoch said, when they're normally a tougher sell because some weren't sure whether or when community pools would open.

Adlhoch, who has yet to do most of her holiday shopping, expects to spend more on out of town family and add people to her gift list, not cross them off. Her mother in Florida might get something special like a food subscription service, luxurious lounge wear or an extra special surprise because the family can't travel to visit during the pandemic.


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