New Jersey adults eye 'secret Santa' for holiday gifting
By JOAN VERDON
Dec. 20, 2017
PARAMUS, N.J. (AP) — As North Jersey shoppers head to the malls with only a few shopping days left until Christmas, one clear trend has emerged about what to expect under the tree this year. The kids will get a lot of gifts. The adults? Don't get your hopes up.
More and more families have adopted the "secret Santa" or "grab bag" tradition for adult gifts. The adults in the family draw names and buy one gift for the person whose name they get, rather than buying separate gifts for every family member.
That trend, combined with a rise in "experiential gifts" such as spa treatments or concert tickets, and increased gift card purchases, is bad news for retailers who sell traditional Christmas gifts like sweaters or perfume, or the wrapping paper and decorations that go with those presents.
Gregory and Diane Kechejian, the owners of Gregory's Hallmark card and gift store at Paramus Park mall say they are hearing from more customers that they are doing secret Santa exchanges, which means they only have to buy one gift. The adults in the family then swap gifts.
Those customers, as a result, need to buy fewer of the wrapping paper rolls, tags, and bows the the Kechejians sell.
Gregory Kechejian says he can relate despite the impact on his business. He and Diane used to host holiday celebrations for 35 to 40 people where everybody got a gift. Now, they do the secret Santa exchange and adults get one gift from their Santa. But their grandchild, born in January, will be getting a lot of presents.
While customers may need less wrapping paper, they are buying lots of money holder cards. "One woman bought $102 worth of money holder cards," Diane said.
This year's signature Hallmark ornament, a chiming cuckoo clock, has sold out twice at the store.
A number of North Jersey residents said they are giving experiences to their spouses and adult children this year rather than presents that come in a box.
Audrey Storch of North Caldwell said she is treating her two adult sons to a trip to Bermuda for a wedding in May rather than giving them Hanukkah gifts this year. Five years ago, she gave them a family trip to Costa Rica as their gift, and said the memories still enrich them today.
"To this day we still talk about that trip, while I can't remember what present I even gave them last year," she said.
Storch says she has seen a desire for more personal gifts lead to a sales boost for her business, Huggs To Go, which sells dolls that can be customized with a picture of a loved one and a voice recording. She says sales have more than doubled this holiday season.
This year, Storch had a winning idea for a Hanukkah gift for her father-in-law who always says "Whatever" when asked what he would like. She gave him a custom T-Shirt with "Whatever" on it, along with a gift card.
Retail research firm The NPD Group found that 39 percent of Americans planned to buy experience gifts like concert tickets, wine tastings, or spa treatments as gifts this holiday season.
Food and beverage experiences were the most popular, followed by tickets to a concert, play or sporting event, spa certificates, and travel vouchers, according to the NPD Holiday Purchase Intentions survey.
Dottie Russo of Paramus said that instead of giving each other gifts, she and her husband "do something together after Christmas," like dinner and a Broadway show.
The adults in her extended family do a grab bag exchange and "then we buy for the kids, because otherwise who could afford it?" she said. "There's too many of us."
For gifts for her daughters and young nieces and nephews, she buys almost everything online. That's partly because she is home with a three-year-old daughter during the day, and partly because "this time of year I hate people," and the holiday shopping crowds, she said.
"I'm definitely putting Mr. Amazon's kids through college," she said. "The UPS guy comes so much that we're sincerely friends," she said.
Marian Discorfano's family also does a grab bag for the adults, Eight nieces and nephews get both money and gifts. And her 14-month-old granddaughter "naturally gets a ton of things," said Discorfano, who lives in Lodi.
Discorfano shops both online and in stores, and says she does most of her shopping in stores "because I love going to the malls," especially Garden State Plaza. She mostly shopped at Macy's and took advantage of a cash-back offer they had for holiday shopping. For online shopping, she used eBates to get refunds on those purchases.
While online spending has been growing by double-digits annually in recent years, it still makes up less than 20 percent of all holiday shopping, with the bulk of spending still being done in traditional stores.
A number of shoppers interviewed at North Jersey malls said they do all their shopping in stores because they want to touch and feel the merchandise.
"I can't understand all these folks that purchase gifts online," said Joe Van Winkle of Lodi, who was shopping at Paramus Park mall Thursday. "I want to see, it feel it, before I buy it," he said.
Van Winkle was loaded with bags from a women's clothing store, where he had bought gifts for his mother and his sister, and was selecting a Disney's "Frozen" ornament for his granddaughter at Gregory's Hallmark. He said he goes holiday shopping with gift ideas in mind, but like to "sight buy" — if he sees something that looks good for a relative, he buys it, and for that he has to see the merchandise in a store.
Issac Vodopivec of Fort Lee, shopping at Buddy's Sports Corner in Paramus Park, said he likes to buy a few special gifts for himself at Christmas. This year he purchased a Colts helmet signed by both Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning and a limited edition Tom Brady lithograph. "I'm a sports fanatic and I always spend a lot," he said.
For his wife, Vodopivec said, the Christmas gifts are always gold or diamond, and he always buys them at Macy's, never online. "Online I'm not buying anything," especially not jewelry, he said.
Buddy Kurzweil of Closter, owner of Buddy's Sports Corner, said he is a big believer in buying gifts that show the giver put some thought into it, unlike gift cards or cash.
Like Santa, Kurzweil makes lists. They tell him what he has given family members in past years, what they liked, and ideas for his next gift. The best gifts, he said, are not what someone needs or asked for, but something they didn't know they wanted — but will love.
Information from: The Record (Woodland Park, N.J.), http://www.northjersey.com