Are Christmas presents a thing of the past?

Payments trends show we’re moving away from traditional gifts and spending more on experiences which create lasting memories.

Presents are as synonymous with the festive season as Santa Claus and mistletoe. And for many of us, jostling through crowds of Christmas shoppers looking for that one must-have present is all part of the Christmas tradition. But for others, Christmas epitomises a very different shopping reality as payments move from the high street to the online marketplace and a culture of instant gratification is on the rise.That’s not to say that present buying isn’t still as strong as ever – but nowadays people are spending less on material possessions and more on making lasting memories through the gift of experiences.

But what makes experience so important? And how has the great Christmas spend changed over the years? Join us on a journey exploring payments past, present, and future…

Christmas past

At the start of the millennium cash and cards ruled and shops were packed to capacity with persevering parents on an endless quest to find that year’s latest hit toy. Online shopping was in relative infancy and it definitely didn’t have the security and trust that today’s payment technology offers. Social media was an obscurity – Facebook wouldn’t be created for another year. Twitter wasn’t even on future CEO Jack Dorsey’s radar, and selfie filters were an unknown phenomenon. Contactless wouldn’t be introduced until 2007 (when Barclaycard was the first to launch contactless payments in the UK) and we were all none-the-wiser to the changes the internet would bring to our consumer culture.

Christmas present

In 2018. We’ve seen the ‘gift of the year’ change from fluffy toys to high-end tech like e-readers, mp3 players and games consoles. Contactless has come a long way too, especially in the UK, where it’s been adopted much more quickly than in Europe or the United States.

In conjunction with the development of reliable, secure online payments, paying for the goods we want, both online and in-store is quicker, safer, and easier than ever before. And in our fast-moving world of rapid transactions, Barclaycard research shows that by 2021 contactless payments are expected to save UK shoppers 141 million hours in reduced transaction times. Statistics also tell us that shopping habits have changed and people are becoming less concerned with owning objects and more interested in learning and experiencing everything life has to offer.

Tis the season to be jolly

2018 insights reveal that 41% of people prefer to buy physical gifts for themselves, rather than receive them from friends and family – and with access to a global marketplace of gifts, socks and chocolates simply don’t cut it these days.

That’s why, according to a recent Barclaycard survey, experience-based presents are on the rise in the UK. Almost 52% of Brits prefer to spend their hard-earned cash on entertainment and events (typically within the £100-£150 price range) in favour of material items - with Millennials and Gen Zs leading the pack.

“Consumers now seek out entertainment above all else when deciding where to spend their money,” explains Cards & Payments Head of Experiential Marketing, Daniel Mathieson. “People want to spend more time with their friends and family and are choosing presents they can enjoy together.”

From live music and comedy shows (the top experience gift this year) to culinary courses and day-long adventures, gifting an experience grants access to one thing that money can’t buy – lasting memories.

It’s the thought that counts

But experience isn’t just gaining popularity thanks to a trend – 58% of people feel like the thoughtfulness of a present is the most important factor when choosing a gift, and getting the right experience for the right person shows that you know them well. According to a recent Washington University Study, buying an experience for a friend as opposed to a more traditional boxed and wrapped gift, shows a stronger social connection with that person and has a greater lasting impact on our happiness than object giving. Among younger demographics, this is particularly notable – 38% of Millennials admitted that they preferred to buy experiences for their parents so they can spend more quality time with them.

Social media

A change in how our online persona shapes our real-life interactions has also likely had an impact on how we buy. In the UK, we spend almost six hours a day on the internet and there are almost 3.2 billion social media users in 2018 – a 13% increase from 2017 - with channels like Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp coming out on top.

The world is more connected – and considering our newfound obsession with online interaction, it’s no surprise that 13% of 25 to 30-year olds admit they buy gifts with the recipient’s social media channels in mind.

Why? It all boils down to us being social creatures – and sharing experiences is one of the ways we build relationships. That’s why 52% of people would rather tell their friends about an enjoyable experience they’d had in favour of an object they’d bought.

Christmas future

Perhaps 2018’s must-have-gift is the gift of experience – but is it the product of a cultural shift or just this year’s fad?

Looking into the future, the Internet of Things promises to make transactions even faster and easier, and there might come a day when we can walk into a store that only sells experiences rather than material products. Only time will tell, but with payments technology marching ever onward, experiences may well be the new benchmark gift for years to come.