Christmas Gift Shopping Study

The aim of this study was to understand people’s practices and experiences associated with Christmas gift shopping: where, when and how do people shop for Christmas gifts? Online or highstreet? What makes an appropriate gift? What happens to gifts after they’re purchased? How do people formulate and communicate their own wishes to others?


For this study I took an ethnographic approach, asking people to keep photo and/or written diaries of their Christmas gift shopping activities during the two to three weeks preceding Christmas. Participants were interviewed twice, once before and after the diary period. The initial interview was to understand people’s living situation, social network, as well as past Christmas rituals and gift shopping practices. In the final interview we discussed participants’ diaries in order to understand the context surrounding a particular gift shopping event, such as shopping for a gift online or wrapping a gift. I recruited 11 participants (8 female, 3 male) aged between 22 and 49 in and around Edinburgh, with a range of backgrounds and nationalities.


Probing for Gift Ideas

“I’m ok but my brother’s always really rubbish at like texting me or messaging about what I think that he should buy for people especially my sister, but I think that’s just a male thing they don’t know what to give women ever.” (P1, female, 22)

“I quite like the idea of trying to find something that’s a bit different but then that doesn’t always work, so yeh I put the feelers out to see if there’s anything they want. [] I just ask questions if I see something that he ((boyfriend)) might like I kind of say oh what do you think of that and yeh if there’s an event or something I think he might like to go to then I’ll talk about it but in a roundabout way and trying to make it out that I’m going to do it so [] a bit of trickery as it were, but yeah.” (P2, female, 34)

“I took them to [department store] for the afternoon, just to see what they played with so I could see what they’re interested in cause they’re like all Lego mad and I wanted to know if they could be into something else because we got too much Lego in our house.” (P3, female, mother of 3, 38)



Second hand gifts

“I think about the benefits of buying something that’s brand new for me anyway. Whereas I wouldn’t think twice about buying someone else something new, cause not everyone likes the idea of buying second hand.” (P2, female, 34)

“Like you can get books, and DVDs and little toys and games from charity shops. Mine ((children)) are currently young enough to not realize that that’s what’s happening and I think at some stage they might not want me to do that but that’s fine, I don’t worry about that at the moment.” (P3, female, 38)


Buying Locally

“I think people like that I’m in Edinburgh I think it’s nicer to get something here that you can’t get in [home town] or like from an independent shop rather than a chain shop that’s just everywhere.” (P1, female, 22)

So what usually happens is, I do this every year, it’s quite funny, I’ll kind of window shop and just go round all the boutiquey places, I’m trying to stay off the highstreet cause it’s really frustrates me, but just the smaller shops in Edinburgh, the shops that are slightly different, and usually I’m just thinking of something they might not have or something that’s traditionally Scottish or that’s being made with designs by Scottish people and stuff I think there’s some really good talent in that. (P2, female, 34)


Shopping Online

I just really like to interact with the product rather than just seeing them online. You know I can’t stand cause I’m locked to the computer all day to do shopping online. I just don’t have the patience to do it, but saying that I know you can get some real bargains. (P2, female, 34)

They didn’t realize that it’s no fun to just sit at home and just click on these links and just buy things. It’s really nice to watch them ((children)) touch something and handle it so I really don’t want to do online shopping for that reason, but also I think it must be absolutely awful working for those place and I don’t really want to support that even though it’s really convenient I just think why not – everything I read about it says it’s wrong. (P3, female, 38)




“I need buy something for this lot of (people who get a) lucky dip. So instead of just having to buy something for everyone in my family, when we get together we’ll just do a lucky dip and that’s easy and we’ll put like a ten pound budget on that present so that’s not a problem.” (P2, female, 34)

“I think because I’m only working part-time this year so our budget is a lot less than it was last year I think this year it’ll just be grandparents, immediate family and close friends and we’ll probably concentrate more on for example on my brother’s and [husband]’s brother, it’ll be more that we’ll give presents for their children than them, but other people know that our budget isn’t this big this year.” (P4, female, 44)

“It’s a sort of an offset savings account which has different (jars), it’s with intelligent finance and say you can have a jar for a car and household things, clothes, and we have a Christmas jar, so we had about £700 and that really makes a difference, so it’s about trying not to run all up on the credit card.” (P5, female, 49)