The Gift Millennials & Gen Z Really Want for the Holidays Can’t Be Found on Shelves

No, the new iPhone is not the top item on Gen Z’s & Millennials’ holiday wishlists. Ypulse asked what they really want, and found the 18 gifts that are most desired by young consumers this year…

We’re about to hit peak holiday shopping season, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday right around the corner—and spending predictions have been coming in hot. Back in August, eMarketer reported that a major boost is predicted for holiday season sales—but mostly online. While total retail sales are expected to grow just 3.1%, ecommerce is predicted to jump nearly 17%, widening the “gap” between the two—a pattern we saw among Millennials last year. Online holiday shopping will reportedly make up 11.5% of total holiday season sales, and 9% of 2017’s retail total. Millennials aren’t just boosting online holiday shopping, they’re also predicted to boost overall spending. The International Council of Shopping Centers predicts a 3.8% rise in retail sales year over year, and found that nearly 92% of Millennials plan to spend some of their holiday budget in-store.

Our recent holiday shopping survey looked closely at Millennials and Gen Z’s holiday shopping plans, from where they plan to buy to how much they’re planning to spend. But of course, these generations aren’t just shaping their own holiday spending—they’re also impacting what older generations spend on. With Boomers and Xers buying presents for their Millennial and Gen Z kids, what young consumers want for the holidays is just as important on what they plan to buy themselves. (Oh, and almost half do plan to buy themselves something.) To find out what their biggest holiday gift desires are, we asked 1000 13-35-year-olds, “What ONE thing is at the top of your holiday wishlist?”* We’ve got their top 18 responses, and no, the iPhone X is not the most-wanted present of the year. Here’s what is:

*This was an open-end response question to allow us to capture the full range of items that Gen Z and Millennial consumers want for the holidays—without our preconceived ideas shaping their responses. As with any qualitative question, the responses include those that are top of mind and those that are most popular. The lists are ordered according to number of responses received, and alphabetically when ties occurred.

What’s at the Top of Their Holiday Wishlist?


  1. Money
  2. Travel
  3. Clothing / Accessories
  4. Tickets / Experience
  5. Gaming console / computer
  6. Books
  7. Gift Cards
  8. Smartphone
  9. Shoes / Boots
  10. Housewares / Home Décor
  11. Video Games
  12. Jewelry / Watch
  13. Cooking Supplies
  14. Laptop / Computer
  15. Smartwatch
  16. Toys / Games
  17. Beauty Product
  18. Camera / Camera Accessories

Money, that’s what they want. As we saw last year, cold hard cash tops the list of gifts that Millennials and Gen Z want the most, and gift cards (another form of cash in many of their eyes) are a top ten item as well. (Though gift cards did drop slightly in demand.) Almost a quarter of 13-35-year-olds tell us that money/gift cards are the kind of item at the top of their holiday list. Incidentally, 18-20-year-olds were the most likely to say that money was a top wishlist item.

Several of the top items on their wishlists are things you won’t find in stores—including travel and tickets/experiences. But of course, their love for tech is apparent as well: gaming consoles or computers came in at number five on the ranking, and smartphone came in at number eight, and of those who did name a smartphone as their top wishlist item, iPhone was the most popular pick.  

Smartphones were also a bit more popular among the youngest consumers than the older: 

Gen Z is more likely than Millennials to say they want a smartphone, gift cards, and video games, while Millennials were more likely to say they want to be given travel, tickets/experiences, and books. But the two generations have some things in common: they both want money, first and foremost, a gift you won’t find on any store shelves. 

To download the PDF version of this insight article, click here.

Want to talk to us about the article
or dive into a custom study?

The Newsfeed

“I eat [Pizza Hut] least two times per month; it's one of my favorite places to go to eat pizza.”—Male, 35, VA

More Millennials are asking for cash wedding registries, and it’s bad news for stores like Bed Bath & Beyond and Williams Sonoma. Increasingly, young couples are asking guests to contribute towards their nest egg, travel, or anything they feel like buying themselves. Companies like Zola and Honeypot have boomed in popularity, offering a personalized platform for their cash registries. However, their success with wedding registries is taking “a key customer acquisition tool” away from home décor stores. (Insider)

The beauty industry is catering to Customization Nation, as more companies crop up to blend unique beauty products for each customer. But can the trend scale? Truly personalized products, like the ones offered by hair care start-up Function of Beauty and makeup company Bite Beauty, take time and resources. But companies that offer base products with just a personalized element or two could be the future of the industry. And big-name brands are getting their feet wet too: Lancôme and CoverGirl have both offered custom-made foundations. (Glossy)

Nordstrom is taking risks to survive retail’s big shifts. Instead of shuttering stores, they’re opening experimental retail locations, revamping their department stores, and making their mark in Manhattan with their first store openings. The long-standing brand also bought ecommerce site HauteLook and the subscription service Trunk Club. So far, their risk-taking hasn’t proved to be a boon to their bottom line—but only time will tell. (WSJ)

Hollister is teaming up with AwesomenessTV to reach Gen Z with a YouTube series. “The Carpe Life” will be a part of a broader campaign, which includes influencer marketingand appeals to young consumers’ love for active, adventurous lifestyles. "The Carpe Life" follows Hollister's first YouTube series, “This is Summer” which “boosted key brand metrics by double digits,” adding on to their overall positive impact on Abercrombie & Fitch’s rising bottom line. (Marketing Dive)

Netflix is switching its strategy, putting less money into “prestige films” for the Post-TV Gen. Instead, they’re churning out more direct-to-video releases. Last year, they bought ten titles at Sundance while this year they had none. While they continue to create original content like the recent The Cloverfield Paradox, they’re betting on less-than-award-worthy films to maintain their hold on Millennial viewers. (The Atlantic)

“Basically if I found out any brand was supporting causes I do not support and actively oppose, I will avoid buying their products.”—Female, 27, CA

Sign Up Now

Subscribe for premium access to our content, data, and tools.

Already a subscriber? Sign in.

Upgrade Now

Upgrade for full access to the best marketing tools for understanding the next generation.

View our Client Case Studies