AI Santas, Lucky Pets, Eco-Santas, and the New ‘Mall Rats’: Harris Poll Finds Surprising Demographic Trends in This Year’s Holiday Shopping

A new report from The Harris Poll Thought Leadership and Futures Practice shows Gen Z and Millennial shoppers defying conventional wisdom, but also finding common ground with Gen X and Boomers in this year’s holiday season.

Gen Z and Millennials seem to do everything online – but when it comes to holiday shopping, they’re much more likely to hit the mall or a second-hand shop than their Boomers and Gen X counterparts. Still, most younger shoppers would happily pay $100 for AI to save them the stress of finding the perfect gift – even though they find AI creepy, according to the new research from The Harris Poll Thought Leadership and Futures Practice.

The study shows several clear distinctions across generations, with younger shoppers (Gen Z and Millennials) seeking authenticity and sustainability in their gift-giving – paradoxically, with a willingness to use artificial intelligence.

“We’re seeing a digital savvy young audience doing three things. First, they are shopping online earlier than everyone else; second, they are planning more times in stores surfing for treasures; and third, they are splurging on themselves,” said Libby Rodney, chief strategy officer at The Harris Poll Thought Leadership and Futures Practice. “They expect brands to do the heavy lifting for them to ensure their choices are guilt-free, sustainable and ideally personalized by AI Santas.”

Among the report’s findings:

The Holiday Dash has already begun. Over six in 10 (62%) Gen Z and Millennials have already started shopping for the holidays, compared to 48% of Gen X and Boomers. Virtually all (95%) of young shoppers plan to buy gifts, versus 91% of older shoppers. 

The new generation of Mall Rats is here. While Amazon remains the top choice for most holiday shopping (50% of younger generations, 56% of older generations), young consumers are far more likely to hit the mall (39% of Gen Z, 36% of Gen Z and Millennials combined, 28% of Gen X and Boomers).  

Young shoppers seek that Personal Touch. In addition to questing through shopping malls, they’re also more likely to sift for treasures at second-hand stores (18% to 10%) or even to craft a homemade gift (14% to 11%).

Shoppers across generations are trending toward being Eco-Santas, giving sustainable gifts and looking for brands and options that deliver on that goal. Two-thirds (65%) of all Americans – and three-quarters of Gen Z and Millennials – say they shop sustainably, and half (53%) say they will pay more money to do so. Three-quarters (75%) of Gen Z and Millennials expect brands themselves to ensure people are shopping sustainably. All demographics express strong support for measures like skipping gift wrap, using slower delivery methods, using sustainable materials, and reducing packaging.

While shoppers across generations also seem to have similar gift-buying budgets ($860 to $960 range), the amount and share of the budgets going to family as opposed to themselves swings dramatically with age. Expected spending on gifts for family members climbs steadily from $229 for Gen Z to $636 for Boomers. Correspondingly, spending on themselves declines drastically from an expected $338 for Gen Z to just $38 for Boomers. 

That’s driven by Merry Me-Time, with six in 10 (61%) of Gen Z and Millennials planning to treat themselves during the holidays – with half of that group planning to spend more than $100 on a self-gift. Just 39% of Gen X and 21% of Boomers plan to treat themselves with a holiday gift. Two-thirds (66%) of Gen Z and Boomers agree that “the holidays offer the perfect excuse to indulge in luxuries I wouldn't normally buy for myself.” 

(Themselves and their furry friends, that is: 57% of Gen Z and Millennials will buy holiday gifts for their Lucky Pets – and over one in 10 plan to spend over $100 on pet gifts.)

Parents, though, are determined to make the holiday season Extra Magical for their children. Three-quarters (77%) agree that they “want to make this holiday season extra magical for my kids after a challenging year”— though more than half (52%) say their children “have high expectations during holidays because of social media.” Parents expect to spend more than four times as much on family as on themselves ($532 vs. $120).

All that spending has its effects. Younger shoppers are far more likely to be Budget Benders when they shop. Six in 10 (62%) of Gen X and Millennials say they are not financially prepared for the upcoming holiday season. Similar percentages say their holiday shopping budget has ballooned, they rarely stick to that budget anyway, and they buy impulsively – and almost half (44%) have gone into debt from holiday shopping.  

Still, Gen Z and Millennials are Gift Hunters and strategic spenders, with three-quarters (74%) utilizing discount days like Prime Day, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, compared to 60% of older generations. Half (54%) say they’d like to start a GoFundMe wish list for holiday shopping so they can afford to buy the gifts they want to give. 

Gen Z and Millennials envision AI Santas as a solution to some issues, despite some misgivings. Six in 10 (62%) say they feel anxiety about gift shopping, and 59% say artificial intelligence could help by saving them time and money – so much so that nearly half (46%) would be willing to pay $100 for AI to select all their holiday gifts, as 55% trust AI more than their gift ideas.

Older generations sharply disagree – 34% think AI could reduce their stress level, and just 20% would pay for an AI shopping assist. And regardless of age, two-thirds (68%) of Americans agree that “it's creepy that gift-giving could come from AI and not actual people.”

The new research from The Harris Poll Thought Leadership and Futures Practice did find areas where virtually everyone agrees, regardless of generation. Asked what aspects of the holiday season they found joyful or dreadful, about eight out of 10 agreed that holiday traditions, family gatherings, holiday music, and holiday decorations all brought joy.

And nearly nine out of 10 agreed that happiness was more than just shopping: Across generations, (87% Gen X and Boomers, 83% Gen Z and Millennials) agree that “This year, I am going to focus on enjoying the little things that come with the holiday season.” 

The report, “2023 Holiday Shopping Trends: How Americans Spend This Holiday Season,” is based on a custom online survey conducted within the United States by The Harris Poll from October 13-15 among a nationally representative sample of 2,079 adults across the four major demographic groups; Gen Z (ages 18-25), Millennials (ages 26-41), Gen X (ages 42-57) and Baby Boomers (ages 58 and older). 


About Harris Poll Thought Leadership Practice 

Building on 50+ years of experience pulsing societal opinion, we design research that is credible, creative, and culturally relevant. Our practice drives thought leadership and unearthed trends for today's biggest brands. We are focused on helping our clients get ahead of what is next. 

About Harris Poll   

The Harris Poll is one of the longest-running surveys in the U.S., tracking public opinion, motivations, and social sentiment since 1963, and is now part of Harris Insights & Analytics, a global consulting and market research firm that delivers social intelligence for transformational times. We work with clients in three primary areas: building 21st-century corporate reputation, crafting brand strategy and performance tracking, and earning organic media through public relations research. Our mission is to provide insights and guidance to help leaders make the best decisions possible. To learn more, please visit

Source: Harris Poll