PYMNTS Consumer Inflation Sentiment February 2024 Banner

Is White Elephant Gift-Giving Still a Holiday Hit? 

Even in the face of inflation, consumers are proving that they won’t “checkout” easily when it comes to tradition. Last week, PYMNTS delved into whether shoppers were ready to swap out real Christmas trees for alternatives, and the verdict was a resounding commitment to tradition. 

Read also: Christmas Tree Costs Soar, Yet Consumers Still Pine for Authenticity 

This week, we’re unwrapping the question of whether this festive spirit extends to quirky activities like The White Elephant game. Are consumers still “checking out” of practical gifts in favor of the comically unexpected? As shoppers become savvier about their spending, they are also becoming more discerning in the types of products they choose. This shift is driven by a preference for value-based deals and promotions, reflecting a thoughtful approach to their purchases. 

How White Elephant Started  

Depending on your upbringing, you might refer to this festive gift exchange as Yankee Swap, White Elephant or Dirty Santa. Variations of this tradition date back as early as 1901, with references to “swap parties” appearing in American publications. 

The Current State of the Consumer  

Inflation’s ongoing influence on consumer spending has prompted individuals to delve into their savings and increasingly turn to credit cards — not only to pay for emergency expenses and major life events but also to pay for non-essential items or experiences.  

Additionally, the adoption of Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) has gained popularity as a credit alternative, allowing consumers to make immediate purchases and settle payments through smaller, staggered installments. 

According to a recent PYMNTS report, this adaptability has transformed the shopping landscape by providing convenience and enhanced control over expenditure. 

In “The Credit Accessibility Series: BNPL’s Wide-Ranging Impact on Consumers and Merchants,” PYMNTS Intelligence utilized a survey of more than 3,100 consumers to evaluate the increasing appeal of Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) products as a credit choice. The report delves into consumers’ motivations for opting for BNPL, as well as the potential for BNPL to positively influence their credit profiles. 

The survey findings revealed that BNPL has become popular, demonstrating consistent usage across diverse demographic segments. In early May, 16% of consumers overall utilized the product, and 12% said they had used it at some point in the past. 

Concerning key motives for adopting BNPL, safeguarding cash reserves and adeptly handling credit limits emerge as primary considerations. Over 50% of the survey’s participants identified efficient cash flow management as the foremost reason for choosing BNPL, with an additional 18% recognizing it as a noteworthy factor, albeit not their primary motivation. 

The data illustrated variations in BNPL adoption among demographics, with millennials leading at a 20% usage rate and baby boomers at 11%. This discrepancy could possibly be attributed to the latter group’s more cautious spending habits, particularly among those on fixed incomes. Additionally, the difference might be linked to the nature of interest-free loans, functioning as a bet on the borrower’s future financial capacity. Millennials, in their peak earning phase, may show a greater inclination towards BNPL than baby boomers and seniors who are not in the same earning stage. 

Are People Buying into White Elephant Swaps? 

It depends on who you ask. 

According to Reddit, consumers who pride themselves in minimalism have a hard time getting around the idea of buying gifts that don’t provide value to the recipient.  

But some have found their way around it. One user said, “My family does a yearly white elephant. I’ve been thinking I’ll buy a fire extinguisher as the gift this year. It’s random, within budget, and something everyone should have.” 

And another Reddit user said: “I HATE white elephant, it is the worst way to give gifts ever!” 

But this Reddit user put it well: “Minimalists usually value experiences over consumerism. White elephants parties are meant to emphasize the experience over the gift. It’s not about what you get, it’s about the social experience surrounding the game. It’s pretty fun with people who take it in the spirit of how it’s intended.”