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.

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The Newsfeed

Quote of the Day: “I actively avoid discussions of TV shows.”—Male, 31, MI

Networks are launching an onslaught of new streaming services to compete with the likes of Netflix and Hulu. CBS, Disney, and now Warner Media are hopping on the bandwagon to compete for young cord-cutters' viewing time. The digital switch makes sense, considering 74% of 13-36-year-olds told Ypulse they watch Netflix weekly, versus 33% who watch cable weekly. But one eMarketer analyst predicts this over-saturation in the streaming wars will lead to “a shakeout," in which companies will be weeded out unless they consolidate their offerings. (THR)

Macy’s is putting virtual reality in 90 stores, with the “largest VR rollout in retail history.” Shoppers can don HTC Vive VR headsets to create 3D floor plans, design their living spaces, deck them out with Macy’s furniture, and then take a step inside of the room. The retail tech enables smaller Macy’s stores to offer a lot more inventory to shoppers, and follows in the footsteps of other reality-bending home décor brands. And, according to Macy’s, VR sales were 60% higher than regular sales in their three pilot stores. (MediaPost)

Prada is plotting a comeback among young consumers. They’ve been slow to adapt to digital, but now the luxury company is emphasizing Instagram and aiming to grow their online sales, which were just 5% in early 2018. While investors applaud Prada’s dive into digital, they also believe the brand needs to shutter several stores—not just to increase “profitability” but to create “the illusion of scarcity.” Prada also has to recover from being late to the luxury streetwear game. (Bloomberg)

Some teens are opting for technical school over four-year universities. At Queens Tech, high schoolers are trained to take on non-desk jobs, like being an electrical engineer or working for public transit companies. Earning a high paycheck that isn’t chipped away by student debt is helping to overcome the societal stigma of skipping college. According to one Queens Tech student, “If you’re a construction worker, you may get paid the same as a doctor, but you don’t look as good.” (Vice)

Don't expect to see macho men and swooning women in grooming brands' latest ads. Instead, companies across the industry are toning down the machismo for Millennial & Gen Z males. Some are blurring gender lines, like Dollar Shave Club, whose “Get Ready” spots debunked stereotypes by not just casting straight, cis males. Other brands are betting modern men are more in touch with their emotions, like Gillette, who shared the touching story of a man’s son becoming an NFL linebacker, despite missing one hand.
(Ad Age)

Quote of the Day: “[Zendaya] is such a beautiful human being and I grew up watching her on the Disney Channel.”—Female, 18, TX

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