The Gifting Revolution (Sparkles and Sustainability)

By Caroline Parkes, Chief Strategy Officer, RAPP

This Christmas feels different somehow. John Lewis’s place in the nation’s hearts has been usurped by a Northern Ireland pub (cheers to you, Charlie’s Bar). The warmth of nativity plays jars with the crisis in Jesus’s place of birth, making UK-based parents hug their children just that little tighter. Vinted mania has taken hold in my office, leaving our annual charity sale of sparkly Christmas wear less well stocked this year. And RAPP’s Value Levers research is telling us that Wi-Fi is more important to cash-strapped consumers than warmth. With so many shifting tides in culture, will this have an effect on the nation’s gifting habits? And how can retailers adapt to this?

Re-gifting is de rigueur this Christmas

35 years ago I read an article in Elle magazine suggesting that regifting items coveted by friends was a new trend. I gave my first boyfriend a shirt he liked of mine and was dumped a week later. It put me off regifting for life! But today, regifting feels like it’s very much in fashion and RAPP’s ‘Seasonal Sustainability’ research[1] shows that 78% of UK consumers would consider regifting.

An article in London’s Evening Standard magazine proclaims ‘we really need to decriminalise regifting’ which raises a point about whether one should be loud and proud, or whether it’s better to keep schtum. The article suggests that stickers could be made to say ‘proudly regifted’ so that we can erode the embarrassment and claim the moral high ground, an idea which I am going to embrace.

Second hand is both sustainable and special

An increase in sustainability as a consideration in gifting, is driving a shift in behaviour. RAPP’s research showed that 66% of UK gift givers are considering sustainability this holiday season, 72% would consider giving second hand gifts, and 23% said they planned to buy second-hand gifts as they were more environmentally friendly. It’s not a huge share of the gifting market, but it’s part of a trend that retailers need to consider.

But it’s not just about saving the planet, choosing to buy second hand is seen as more meaningful. Because second hand is more difficult to purchase (no quick look at the ASOS gift list on 23rd December – guilty as charged!), there’s a sense of being more thoughtful. According to Oxfam, 74% of UK adults viewed ‘meaningful gifts’ (that are not costly) as best. And 67% of adults say that they would be happy to receive a second-hand item for Christmas.

This is a trend that’s being driven especially by younger consumers, who are both more interested in sustainability, but also better equipped with knowledge and access to the circular economy making them much more likely to participate in this behaviour, as well as less ingrained in the etiquette of gifting.

The old adage, it’s the thought that counts, rings true in 2023.

Resale market will surge after poorly chosen Christmas gifts

Forget the Boxing Day sales, I’ll be straight on Vinted on Boxing Day, hoovering up the bargains. The circular economy revolution has reached peak noise this season, not only is it good for the environment, it’s been described to me as ‘shopping crack.’ Its algorithms are up there with Tik Tok, and one colleague is having her packages delivered to pick up boxes rather than home, so her husband doesn’t see them.

But is it sustainable? Whilst shopping for second-hand fashion on Vinted instead of buying new demonstrated an emissions saving of 1.8 kg , 25% of its customers are buying on impulse, so it is fuelling additional purchase, as well as taking them away from retailers (39% of Vinted customers choose the platform to avoid new purchases). And charity shops are losing out – 19% of Vinted customers would have given their unwanted items to charity.

What does this mean to retailers?

On one hand, it can divert potential new sales as consumers opt for second-hand options. On the other, some retailers are capitalising on the trend by incorporating resale into their business models, either through partnerships or by launching their own resale platforms.

But all retailers can leverage these trends in 2024 by:

  • Incorporating sustainability initiatives such as ethical sourcing, recycling programs, or clothing take-back schemes.
  • Integrating resale options into the business model, either by partnering with existing resale platforms or by establishing in-house resale channels.
  • Promoting long term value by creating durable, timeless garments that retain value over time.
  • Exploring circular economy principles by incorporating recycled materials and designing products with end-of-life recycling in mind.

It’s also interesting to consider how resale and regifting can be an acquisition tool for luxury brands. Resale democratises luxury, offering accessibility to a broader audience where otherwise it would have been unattainable. Luxury brands could seize this chance for the second-hand market to serve as an entry point, potentially leading buyers into the primary market. Cultivating this connection early could convert them into lifelong brand enthusiasts, long beyond Christmas. This, in itself, is a gift to the industry.

[1] 500 UK consumers (random sample) 1st December 2023