Retail

Going Truly Over The Top For Christmas

Christmas diamond gifts

Christmas is now in the 2019 rear-view mirror. Gifts have been unwrapped, and 10 percent of packages are, or are in the process of being returned. This year, confident U.S. consumers spent, and spent big. According to Mastercard, sales are up 3.4 percent and eCommerce sales are up 18 percent over 2018. The National Retail Federation (NRF) reports that, based on early predictions, the average American spent a little more than $1,050 on gifts given to others this holiday season, with higher income earners (north of $100,00 a year) spending twice that. And according to Mastercard, more of those purchases were made online, with holiday sales online reaching 15 percent of all retail sales this season.

As for what people bought, it ran the gamut from smartphones, laptops, TVs, smart speakers, Barbie dolls, gaming systems, Star Wars toys (but no Baby Yoda!), books, pajamas — the usual suspects.

But not everyone stays within the realm of the usual. Some, in fact, have a tendency to go a bit overboard.

Take Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov, for instance, who gave Russian Empress Catherine the Great a 200-carat, 180-facet diamond for Christmas in the 1870s — to make up for seducing her 13-year-old niece. Nothing really says “I’m sorry, Merry Christmas” like a diamond roughly the size and dimensions of a golf ball, after all.

But not every over-the-top gift can be measured by the size of the price tag. In fact, sometimes the most valuable and precious gifts are those that involve parents going above and beyond to deliver a special Christmas wish so that their son or daughter isn’t disappointed on Christmas morning.

A Brief History of Americans Going the Distance — In Good Ways and … Not

In 1980, Kim Pittsley’s 4-year-old son put only one thing on his Christmas list: a real “amblance” (his spelling).  His mother understood that to mean a toy with lights and a siren. There was just one problem. She lived in a town without a toy store about 25 years before the emergence of eCommerce

“We didn’t have computers. We had paper catalogs. We had Kmart in town, but not a real toy store,” she told The New York Times.

Kmart didn’t have an “amblance” She couldn’t find one in a catalog. Amazon wouldn’t appear for 15 more years. So she drove two hours to the nearest Toys R Us. No dice. So she drove two and a half hours to the next closest Toys R Us. Still no dice.

At this point, four and a half hours into the quest, most of us would give up and decide that this is the moment our child is going to learn that into every life a little rain must fall. Not Kim Pittsley. She doubled down and drove for four hours to the nearest major city.

“In a last-ditch effort,” she said, “we driove 200 miles one way to Milwaukee. And in a small toy store, we found one.”

That is the touching story of a parent willing to go to any length to procure the toy their child really and desperately wants. Pittsley even credited Santa Claus with “having a hand in it,” so miraculous was her experience.

Then there is the less touching version of parents willing to engage in acts of physical violence to get their child a much-wanted toy.

The gold standard of people going over the top in exactly the worst possible way will likely always be the pre-internet world of 1983 when Cabbage Patch dolls became a national obsession. One news report told the harrowing tale  of a Texas shopper gripping her doll tightly even as another shopper’s purse strap was wrapped around her throat.

Because nothing says peace on Earth, goodwill toward men like choking a stranger for a doll.

Or buying a 6-year-old a $64,000 velvet dinner jacket.

Kristmas with the Kardashian-Jenners 

That the rich and famous will buy each other over-the-top gifts is a given during the holiday season. If Nick Jonas didn’t get wife Priyanka Chopra some ridiculously expensive and Instagram-worthy gift (this year it was a $100,000 snow-go) we would assume they had gotten divorced or were on the way there.

But then there are the truly over-the-top gifts given and received by the first family of American consumerism: the Kardashian-Jenners.

And the competition for most over-the-top gift this year was particularly fierce.

Kylie Jenner — beauty mogul, billionaire and mother of 1-year old Stormi — gifted her baby daughter with a two-story “tiny house” (or baby mansion, depending on your point of view) modeled after Kylie’s childhood playhouse. And in case you’re wondering — yes, there is a chance Stormi’s house is nicer than yours as it is a fully furnished, Cape Cod-style guest house, complete with a kitchen, fireplace, baby doll nursery and balcony.

Stormi also reportedly received a large double-rocked diamond ring that took up nearly the entirety of her finger.

And if you are worrying about whether this child is getting spoiled, don’t be. She didn’t get everything she wanted for Christmas — when her grandmother asked Stormi was she thought she was getting for Christmas, the pre-toddler cried “Birkin.”

Apparently to get a $30,000 handbag in the Kardashian Klan one has to be at least 6, as Stormi’s cousin North Kardashian West was spotted a few weeks before the holiday sporting a Birkin bag. That, it seems, was a pre-Christmas present.

North’s gift this year was a $64,000 velvet blazer once worn by Michael Jackson to celebrate Liz Taylor’s birthday dinner. The jacket was modified to fit a 6-year-old girl — though Kim Kardashian said it will also be able to grow up with her as it can be let back out to its original dimensions.

North West is reportedly a huge Michael Jackson fan — and is “very grateful” for the jacket.

And then there were Kourtney Kardashian’s poor deprived children — who got neither diamonds, real estate nor celebrity hand-me-downs for Christmas. Though Kourtney did bedeck herself with some diamond bling, she took a decidedly more low-key approach with her kids.

She bought them a puppy.

We’re not going to speculate whose kids were happiest on Christmas morning when they opened their presents — as they are all lovely gifts.

Just kidding, it was obviously Kourtney’s kids. Come on.

Because going over the top always has the slight downside of being a bit more about the gift giver than the gift recipient. We’re sure kids really wanted Cabbage Patch dolls in the 1980s or Tickle Me Elmo in the 1990s. We also feel fairly certain they would have more strongly preferred their parents not sport a black eye at the Christmas dinner table from procuring it. And while we’re sure Stormi Jenner likes her tiny mansion — we’re just not sure she’s up to appreciating the top-of-the-line kitchen appliance suite she has in it.

Or at least not anywhere near as much as she would have appreciated a puppy. Or, given the fact she’s under the age of 2 — an empty box with some bubble wrap in it. Over the top means something a little different when you are less than 24 months old and generally it is safe to set the bar pretty low.

Then again, she did ask for a Birkin, so it is possible she is some sort of consumer prodigy.

But for the rest of us, unless you have an opportunity to give someone a 200-carat diamond for a reasonable discount — it is probably best as safest to skip going all the way over the top and to think a little bit more like Kourtney Kardashian, and a bit less like Kim and Kylie.

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NEW PYMNTS DATA: HOW WE SHOP – SEPTEMBER 2020 

The How We Shop Report, a PYMNTS collaboration with PayPal, aims to understand how consumers of all ages and incomes are shifting to shopping and paying online in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research builds on a series of studies conducted since March, surveying more than 16,000 consumers on how their shopping habits and payments preferences are changing as the crisis continues. This report focuses on our latest survey of 2,163 respondents and examines how their increased appetite for online commerce and digital touchless methods, such as QR codes, contactless cards and digital wallets, is poised to shape the post-pandemic economy.

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