38 Fascinating Facts about Holiday Shopping

By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published October 18, 2016Updated October 11, 2016
  • The average American spends about $786 on holiday shopping[13]
  • The average holiday shopper will spend $107.50 on themselves.[1]
  • While the deals offered on Black Friday often aren’t necessarily the best deals that will be offered during the holiday shopping season, standing outside stores at 4:30 a.m. or earlier has become a family tradition as well as a ritual of sorts that holds an important social component.[4]
  • Holiday retailers use music to attract potential shoppers. For example,  if shoppers like the type of music retailers are playing, they will be more likely to enter the store and like the products. Additionally, the slower the tempo of the music, the slower people will walk through the store, and the more they will buy. A faster tempo will encourage shoppers to walk faster and, consequently, they won’t buy as much.[12]
  • Retailers rely on several psychological triggers to attract consumers into their store, such as placing limits on items, offering “gifts” with purchase, employing visual tricks, and declaring that sales are ending soon (when in fact discounts are common throughout the season).[14]
  • The psychological term for compulsive spending is oniomania, from onios, meaning for sale, and mania, meaning madness
  • Research indicates that shopping has a direct effect on the brain’s pleasure centers. It can flood the brain with dopamine, similar to the way a drug addict experiences a fix.[10]
  • Many “door buster deals” advertised on Black Friday, such as those on expensive items (like HDTVs), are typically in very limited supplies—maybe just 4-6 per store—and act merely as lures to attract customers.[9]
  • Retail researchers note a “butt brush” effect, which means that when a customer’s personal space is invaded, he or she will leave, even if interested in the item.[14]
  • Satellite images of America’s retail parking lots are used to predict how well retailers will do in the holiday season and for quarterly earnings.  However, parking lot images don’t take into other factors, such as online shoppers.[8]
  • The National Retail Federation considers the “holiday shopping” season to be the full months of November and December, which is usually 55 days.[1]
  • The busiest shopping day of the year is not Black Friday, but the Saturday before Christmas. The busiest online shopping day takes place on the Monday or Tuesday a week or two before the week of Christmas.[11]
  • Researchers have proven that a “50% off” sign leads in increased sales, even if shoppers don’t know the original price or what a reasonable price for the product would be.[4]
  • In 2013, retailers lost $3.4 billion due to return fraud during the holiday season. The most common form of return fraud is the return of stolen merchandise.[2]
  • Married people are less likely to impulse buy
  • Single shoppers make 45% more impulse buys than married shoppers.[16]
  • When a salesperson asks a shopper which of several items she or he prefers, the shopper will often skip the question “Should I buy? and instead ask “Which one should I buy?”[4]
  • Researchers have found that presenting a confusing sales pitch (e.g., telling a potential customer that a candy bar is 300 cents) and then reframing the statement in a clearer way increases the sale of an item.[4]
  • Retailers take advantage of traditional Christmas smells and tastes to attract customers. For example, retailers may waft the smell of roasting chestnuts throughout their store and offer free samples of Christmas cookies. Holiday smells and tastes also stimulate the saliva glands, which makes shoppers hungry. Hungry shoppers are more likely to buy anything, not just food.[12]
  • Six percent of the U.S. population can be considered “compulsive buyers,” which is an addiction to shopping that affects both men and women equally.[10]
  • Retailers often stock “impulse buys” at the end of aisles and near the cash registers.[4]
  • In 2008, a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death when he attempted to open the doors to the store at 5 a.m. on Black Friday. In 2010, there were several reports of violence on Black Friday, including a Wisconsin woman who was arrested when she threatened other shoppers with a gun after she cut in line.[3][18]
  • In 2013, the retail industry in the United States generated over $3 trillion during the holiday shopping season.[17]
  • In the U.S. alone, the retail industry generated over $3 trillion dollars during the holidays
  • December 15-24th is the crux of the holiday shopping season, accounting for 40% of holiday business.[6]
  • All 364 items in the popular song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” would have cost $101,119.84 in 2011, making it the first year the total would go beyond $100,000. Just one of everything would have cost $24,263.[5]
  • Approximately 42% of U.S. consumers use Amazon as their primary gift-buying destination.[13]
  • Because red stimulates spending, retailers will purposefully weave red into their advertisements and displays.[20]
  • Americans are more likely than any other European nation to go into debt to pay for Christmas, with one in five using credit to cover costs.[15]
  • Christmas is the season when you buy this year's gifts with next year's money.

    - Author Unknown

  • Holiday shopping can be stressful. However, pressure, competition, fear of missing out and anxiety interferes with calm decision-making, which often leads to buyers’ remorse and over-purchasing.[20]
  • People are significantly more likely to buy what they touch. This is why retailers design stores with tactile displays and merchandise roadblocks.[20]
  • Consumers are naturally more drawn to the center of displays, which is precisely where retailers place pricier items. The second most popular placement is just to the right of the center, where most right-handed people are most likely to see and touch first.[20]
  • Buyers are 13% less likely to make impulse buys on a planned shopping trip. They are 23% more likely to impulse buy on an unplanned shipping trip.[16]
  • Walking, rather than driving, to the store decreases the chance of impulse buying by 44%.[16]
  • One in 3 holiday shoppers believe that it is more important to spend money on loved ones than it is to stay within a budget.[16]
  • Researchers have noted that a traditional Thanksgiving dinner full of tryptophan and carbohydrates creates serotonin, which is known to reduce impulsive behavior.[4]
  • One in 4 pet owners sign their pet's name on their annual Christmas cards
  • U.S. consumers spend about nearly $5 billion a year on Christmas gifts for their pets.[16]
  • Those who use their smart phones to holiday shop tend to spend more than those who don't use their phones.[13]
  • Romanians spends more money (32% of their monthly paycheck) on Christmas gifts than any other European nation. People in the Czech Republic spend around 25% of their monthly earnings, while the U.S rounds out the top 3 by spending 15% of their monthly paycheck.[15]
  • Nearly 40% of Americans begin their holiday shopping before Halloween.[19]
  • Early holiday shoppers tend to be older, wealthier, college-educated and female.[7]

12010 Holiday Headquarters.” National Retail Federation. Accessed: November 15, 2010.

2 Allen, Kathy Grannis. “Retailers Estimate Holiday Return Fraud Will Cost Them $3.8 Billion, According to NRF Survey.” National Retail Federation. December 19, 2014. Accessed: September 26, 2016.

3Black Friday Shopper Accused of Gun Threat.” CNN. November 26, 2010. Accessed: November 29, 2010.

4 Britt, Robert Roy. “Buyer Beware: The Many Ways Retailers Can Trick You.” Live Science. July 2008. Accessed: November 15, 2010.

5 Carbone, Nick. “The Items in ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ Will Cost You More Than $100,000.” Time. November 29, 2011. Accessed: September 26, 2016.

6 D’Innocenzio, Anne. “Holiday Sales Encouraging, But Are Shoppers Done?” USA Today. November 29,2010. Accessed: November 29, 2010.

7 Grandstaff, Mark. "How Annoying! 1 million Holiday Shoppers Already Done." USA Today. September 29, 2016. Accessed: October 11, 2016.

8 Hope, Bradley. "Counting Cars to Predict Earnings." The Wall Street Journal. November 20, 2014. Accessed: September 26, 2016.

9 Kavilanz, Parija. “Black Friday 2010’s Dirty Little Secrets.” CNNMoney. November 19, 2010. Accessed: November 25, 2010.

10 Lawson, Willow. “Doped on Shopping.” Psychology Today. March 1, 2006. Accessed: November 15, 2010.

11 Pham, Alex. “Cyber Monday Becomes Mundane.” Los Angeles Times. November 26, 2009. (B1).

12 Ravn, Karen. “Buyer Beware—of How You’re Being Coaxed into Spending.” LA Times. November 22, 2010.

13Season Trends: Holiday Shopping.” infoUSA. 2016. Accessed: October 11, 2016.

14Shopping Psychology.” CBS News. November 15, 2010. Accessed: November 23, 2010.

15The Countries that Spend the Most on Christmas.” MSN. February 12, 2015. Accessed: October 11, 2016.

16 Unger, Natalie. “Retailers: Get Ramped up for Holiday 2016 with These 8 Amazing Facts. “ Signal. August 3, 2016. Accessed: October 11, 2016

17 "U.S. Christmas Season: Statistics & Facts." Statista. 2016. Accessed: October 11, 2016.

18Wal-Mart Worker Dies in Rush, Two Killed at Toy Store.” CNN U.S. November 28, 2008. Accessed: November 15, 2010.

19 Yarrow, Kit. “How Holiday Shopping Became a Moral Issue.” Psychology Today. October 28, 2105. Accessed: October 11, 2016.

20 Yarrow, Kit. “This is Your Brain on Holiday Shopping.” Psychology Today. December 6, 2012. Accessed: October 11.