‘Tis the Season of Self-Gifting

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There’s nothing a retailer likes more than a consumer who goes shopping for gifts, and who winds up picking up a few things for herself while she’s at it. Earlier in the shopping season, a rise in self-gifting was projected, with 57.1% of pent-up consumers expected to take advantage of deals and buy stuff for themselves on gift-getting excursions to the mall, up from 52.9% last year, and thus far the the self-buying increase seems to be legit. This is a trend retailers love—because when a shopper buys something for himself, he’s more likely to feel the need to buy another gift for someone else, and vice versa. A snowball effect occurs, with a back-and-forth of guilt buying and reward buying and lots and lots of spending.

Psychologists call this one-for-me, one-for-you syndrome the licensing effect. As in: Generously buying a gift for someone else gives me the license to splurge on something for myself. I’m being such a good person: Don’t I deserve a treat too? Of course I do. And just look at these deals! It would be silly not to get a little something for myself.

Today’s Washington Post digs into the idea of self-gifting, which Marshal Cohen, an analyst for the consumer research firm NPD Group, indeed says has been on the rise:

Cohen said self-gifting helped drive the strong sales and shopper traffic over the post-Thanksgiving weekend. His research showed 35 percent of shoppers bought something for themselves, more than he expected.

Other analysts estimate that 15% of items purchased on Black Friday itself were self-gifts, up from 9% in 2009.

Cohen agrees with the premise that a gift-giver is more likely to indulge in some self-gifting, or vice versa. It doesn’t really matter which comes first. Either way, the shopper is bound to spend more—and more, as the licensing or snowball or shopping frenzy effect or whatever you want to call it takes over. Here’s how Cohen describes the effect:

“It’s like it becomes a fever,” he said. “For every self-gifted item, there’s generally another item that gets added to the assortment as well.”

While self-gifting obviously has a bad effect on the self-gifter’s finances, the trend bodes well for the economy. Saving money is a double-edged sword in that it’s good for you, but bad for the economy. It’s been said many times that one of the key components to getting the economy back cruising along is to entice the American consumer into pulling out his dusty, creaky wallet and spending like it’s 2006 again—and yes, you’re supposed to spend money even if you don’t have it—a.k.a., go into debt. The 13.6 million Americans still in debt from last holiday season’s shopping have certainly done their share.

When you think about it, there’s another justification for partaking in the gift-giving-self-gifting frenzy: You’re not only being generous with your friends and family and yourself, but your spending for the benefit of the economy as a whole, and by extension your neighbors and fellow citizens.

What an unselfish thing it is to buy something for oneself! I’m heading to the mall right now!

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