Despite the strain of the pandemic, consumers have shown an eagerness for the season of giving — even if it means doing nearly all of their shopping online. Though as recent reports have shown, shifts in what is on everyone’s wish list this year look a bit different, too, with gifts for pets proving to be a leading category alongside clothing, electronics and gift cards.
As the holiday shopping season peaks, industry executive leaders share their plans for giving, what they have on their list, and what has been learned from a holiday season like no other.
Suzanne Silverstein, president at Seven For All Mankind
“My advice is to be optimistic about the future, this pandemic is a moment in time. Embrace change and we will get through this. By this time next year, we will have ‘returned to life.’ As an early holiday gift, we had a new kitchen island installed. We’ve been cooking much more as a family during the pandemic and, hopefully, we will after as well. For my 15-year-old son, Jacob, a sterling silver Tiffany monogrammed money clip. He never asks for anything but now that he’s got his first credit card and venturing out to dinners with his group of friends, he needed a little organization.”
Micky Onvural, chief executive officer of Bonobos
“Obviously, the holidays look a little different this year, with less parties and family gatherings. I believe this is going to mean more emphasis on virtual gifts, like our digital gift cards, or even gifting a virtual styling session. We’re also starting to see some serious self-gifting. After the year we have all had, I think we are all feeling the need to treat ourselves a little. It likely won’t be a new tuxedo for your holiday party, but it probably will be a cozy merino sweater or even maybe even some of our comfy ‘Panta Claus’ corduroys. After all, we all need a little joy this year, and we certainly hope to be a part of that.
“I really enjoy ‘wear anywhere’ pieces that are both comfortable and sleek…loungewear made with a cashmere blend, form-fitting joggers with an e-waist, etc. For the men in my life, I’m unabashedly gifting Bonobos’ refined ‘WFHQ’ pant — comfortable, perfect for working at home (as the name suggests) — or even going out. A few quality casual pieces can help make our new normal a bit more luxurious and comfortable.”
Sarah Willersdorf, global head of luxury at Boston Consulting Group
“Digital channels will remain key this holiday period given COVID-19, so retailers must make digital and omnichannel offerings as seamless as possible — free shipping, free returns, curbside pick-up, etc. Given that so many people are experiencing a challenging year financially and mentally, I also hope that brands will continue to partner with local not-for-profits across a broad range of causes so that ‘doing good’ can be woven into more gift-giving this year.
“Like many working parents, I really need a week alone at a health and wellness spa. I am already falling behind in gift-giving this year. I will send my parents in Australia a basket with great local Australian wine and cheese. My husband loves cycling, so I plan to gift him some Rapha cycling gear and Yeti mugs. I also have two young boys with lists for Santa Claus. The eldest one is hoping to receive his first surfboard from South Bay Board Co. — as an Australian, I have great pride in this. My youngest son is obsessed with Pokémon so [he] will receive a Pikachu Electronic Coin Bank, Pokémon action figures and Pokémon GX collectible cards, which are basically rare Pokémon cards — if you know, you know.”
Ryan Urban, cofounder and chief executive officer at BounceX
“So many retailers still miss the mark with their opt-in experiences online. Even during the holidays, it’s still important to capture e-mail addresses and mobile numbers, not only to drive more sales but also to maintain the relationship in the new year. The mass adoption of SMS marketing has only made it more complicated. The retailers doing it best are not only thinking about the whole customer journey but also all the different customer journeys that happen online. An opt-in is the start of a relationship, so make it personal from the beginning and avoid a one-size-fits-all approach.
“I’m gonna say it — Crocs are the business casual shoes you didn’t know you needed. I’m really into the little charms you can pin on them. I’m always hoping people surprise me with new ones I haven’t seen. Then I can think of the friends who gave them to me when I clip them on. Also, my friend is obsessed with his new French Bulldog, Cleo, so I’m commissioning a painting of her dressed as a queen.”
Susan Hennike, president of Champion North America
“What we are learning during this holiday season for the Champion brand is to ensure we continue to think outside the box and to be creative around our online shopping experience so we can continue to engage with our consumers.
“Holidays are fast approaching and we are still working from home. I will be doing all my holiday shopping online whether it is for me or for my family and friends. Since my wardrobe has changed from business casual to very casual, at the top of my wish list is a great Champion Reverse Weave Hoodie and jogger set. And I always ask for a wonderful smelling candle that I can now burn in my home office — anything Balsam is my favorite. For my friends and family, I love to give the gift of beauty — face masks, bath bombs and body oils are all small luxuries that they can enjoy at home, gifting them a spa day to relax during these difficult times.”
Erik Torstensson, cofounder and creative director of Frame
“It’s all about the neighborhood — we are all in this together so let’s make each other feel that way. To me, this year is about reflection and recovery — I will look to things that have soft values. We have also decided to minimize giving within my own family and give to people that need it more than us. [For myself] some of the samples from Frame’s new men’s wear collection — we are relaunching our men’s offerings next year and the whole collection is my wardrobe dream come true.”
Mary Alderte, chief marketing officer at Gap
“Our focus at Gap is to connect emotionally with our consumers, add value and give back. We hope to demonstrate our shared values with our ‘Dream the Future’ campaign that shows how the gifts of peace, love, joy and hope can lead to a better tomorrow for everyone. Unity and equality have been our messages for the past six months and we truly believe that empathy for each other is how we can all bring positive change in the new year. Leading with brand values, even in the most transactional of retail quarters, is something we feel proud to do and to give back with our Giving campaign to the Boys and Girls Club of America.
“2020 has been a challenging year. The holidays will not be happy for many Americans due to the tragic impact of COVID-19 and the unemployment caused by the pandemic. So many have lost so much. These past months have truly made clear that helping others is the true gift and so our family has decided to support those in need instead of giving each other gifts this year.”
Emilia Fazzalari, chief executive officer at Cincoro Tequila
“This year has had more than its fair share of the unexpected. In retrospect, this has been a turning point for us to shift back to what made us begin Cincoro Tequila — quality time with loved ones, friends and family, as well as adding lots of video conferencing with those we haven’t been able to see in person. We’ve made it a mission this year to check-in regularly with our coworkers, as well as also personally reach out to our retailers and partners to let them know that we are here with them every step of the way. Making time for conversations like these reinforces how important it is to appreciate one another and maximize the time we have with together, whether in-person or virtually.
“My husband, Wyc, and I have been spending much more time together since we began working at home — and have loved every minute of it. He’s not only my husband but my business partner, coparent, ‘sous-chef’ and much more. We have fun unwinding at the end of each day reading, so I’m excited to get him a few books that we’ve had on our list, including Rick Atkinson’s ‘The British Are Coming,’ which takes place partially in our beloved Boston. He’s a voracious reader and a book is a perfect gift, so I will have to be sure he hasn’t read this one already.”
Dara F. Levy, founder and chief executive officer of Dermaflash
“Expect the unexpected. This year has been unprecedented and incredibly challenging for us all. I think we’ve all come to learn that the best-laid plans can be unraveled in a moment. The ability to pivot and remain positive is key. I try to live my life from a place of positivity and hope and try to instill that in my team as well. I think giving back in whatever way you can is also key. Generosity can be defined in many ways, from donating to those in need, to lending a [virtual] shoulder to help mentor or soothe someone during a difficult time.
“2020 has radically changed my perspective around everything. I have come to appreciate the emotionally meaningful more than the material. Number one on my list — daughters, are you listening? — would be a photo book of meaningful moments and travel memories. Something I can always treasure and open anytime to bring a smile.”
Brett Heyman, founder and creative director of Edie Parker and Flower by Edie Parker
“Since the items we sell are not essential, our focus is on sparking joy. We handcraft handbags, home items and cannabis products to make people happy. [A gift I plan to give to] all my best buds is the Edie Parker Flower ‘For a Good Time’ gift set, [for myself], I am dreaming of an R. Belli lamp in saturated technicolor.”
Gaylene Meyer, vice president of global marketing and communications at Impinj
“I think brands and retailers already know to expect a different holiday season this year. People’s interests have changed. And we’ve redefined what’s important or essential. In my house, one son is now an expert at making homemade pasta, the other is focused on photography, and my husband is tinkering with our cars. The pasta-maker, camera lens and car parts were all ordered online and arrived on our doorstep. Retailers and brands who have invested in the infrastructure and systems to operate an agile supply chain will win these orders. Those that can’t identify available stock to ship to customers won’t.
“For my family, winter means skiing. Traditionally, everyone gets long underwear and ski socks for Christmas along with whatever ski gear that they need or want. I must admit that there’s a beautiful leather jacket that has caught my eye. It’s totally impractical for my work-from-home wardrobe. But I really miss wearing beautiful things. I think a part of the reason it’s caught my attention is that it makes me feel hopeful to imagine going to events in the future.”
Kendra Scott, founder and chief executive officer of Kendra Scott
“This year, it’s more important than ever to meet the customer where they are, whether it’s in-store or online, and give them the best, most seamless experience possible. Everyone is already navigating so much right now, the last thing anyone needs is for holiday shopping to feel like a chore. We’re doing that with new programs like our Virtual Queuing Program, which lets our customers shop in line if stores are at capacity, and quickly find those same items as soon as they enter. Or if our customers are stumped for shopping gift ideas, we have stylists at the ready that can connect virtually, and direct them to shoppable QR codes during the session to make it as easy as possible for them to check off their Christmas lists. It’s all about listening to your customer and meeting their needs.
“I wish my whole family could be celebrating the season together this year, but like so many others, we’ll be sending our gifts in the mail this year. So, I want those gifts to have that extra personal touch. At Kendra Scott we just launched online engraving for our sterling silver and vermeil line, and that is certainly going to be my go-to gift this year. While I can’t surprise them in person, sending a timeless style engraved with a meaningful word or symbol makes me feel so much closer to the ones I love.”
Abigail Cook Stone, cofounder and chief executive officer at Otherland
“At Otherland, we recognize that gifting is even more important this year than ever before. Without holiday parties and travel to see family, it’s all about sending a sweet gift to the ones you care about. Customers are looking to give products that feel extra-special with an unboxing experience that sparks joy and an ability to add a personalized touch as a stand-in for those in-person connections we’re all missing this year.
“This year, under the tutelage of my friend, interior designer Kate Ives Marshall, I’ve been building up my tablescape inventory — a collection of colorful linens, patterned plates, vintage glassware, whimsical tabletop decorations and naturally, scents. While I only need place settings for two, creating a beautiful, artfully curated table at home with themes such as ‘rococo rose,’ ‘autumn in amber,’ ‘midnight in the garden’ for Halloween, and ‘gilded holiday’ for some early Christmas cheer, lifts my spirits and provides a dose of escapism from our long days at home.”
Lisa McKnight, senior vice president and global brand general manager at Barbie
“At Mattel, we know inclusion matters and are encouraging parents and caregivers to mix up their kids’ toy boxes to better reflect the world kids see around them. Especially for the holiday season, we are challenging parents to help children understand and appreciate diversity by adding diverse dolls to their toy box. Toy diversity is developmentally positive for kids, inviting them to tell more stories, and can spark important conversations.
“This year, I have my eyes on a Breville espresso-maker to whip up a professional-grade latte in minutes, along with timeless design and entertaining books, like Mark D. Sikes’ and Aerin Lauder’s beautiful coffee table books, to get my creative juices flowing while I bring my very own dream house to life. [And for giving] Farmgirl Flowers makes sending a thoughtful gift simple and I love to support a female-founded business, especially one that started in the Bay Area, which will always hold a special place in my heart with fond memories of growing up there.”
Ehsan Rezvan, founder of Proud
“This year more than any other year, it’s all about mission-driven brands and companies. It’s all about uniting our divided country around self-care, health and love. American values are all about working hard, giving back, and supporting one another. [I plan to give] cooking and cocktail recipe books, gift certificates to restaurants, and airline tickets! Making sure people can look forward to either going out and enjoy a meal outside or dreaming about getting away to some fabulous place soon.”
Nate Checketts, cofounder and chief executive officer of Rhone
“It might sound cheesy, but make sure your customer experience teams have an extra dose of understanding and kindness this year. We are seeing a mental health strain with the ongoing pandemic, and all of us can use an extra dose of understanding and kindness. Hopefully, that gets reciprocated back to the amazing people who put themselves at the front of customer communication.
“[This year I’m giving pieces from] our new Rhone Everyday Essentials collection. We spent two years innovating to develop a premium basics line. It’s the spine of your closet and you can’t ignore it. I think our socks, underwear and undershirts will become essential to those who wear it.”
Ashley Grech, global head of sales at Square
“This holiday season is unlike any other and is continuing to require businesses to adapt and introduce products and solutions that can safely welcome back customers while considering a variety of new normals, like ways to keep customers socially distanced, minimize contact between staff and customers, and continue selling. My biggest piece of advice for retailers is to get creative with their offerings and introduce new things, like bake at home bundles or game-night-at-home gifts.
“We’ve learned that it’s important for businesses to offer a variety of ways for customers to shop, whether that be online through an online store or social media channels, pick up, local delivery, gift cards and others. This way consumers can shop in whatever way they feel most comfortable, while still being able to buy their family and loved ones their gifts! Businesses also don’t necessarily have to put your products on Amazon. Square Online has integrations with local delivery partners, and as a retailer, that means delivery in an hour, not days. And it keeps more of the margins in the business owner’s hands, rather than the delivery platform.
“I’m trying to make both life and work at home cozier — a new, lush houseplant from Plantsandfriends would make me really happy this year, and they come with foolproof care instructions. Because there are a lot of people I haven’t spent time with this year, and because food is equivalent to love in my family, I’m sending a lot of food gifts. Top of the list is the frozen brunch box of French pastries that can be baked at someone’s house from Le Marais Bakery.”
Zara Tisch, founder and chief executive officer of Terez
“Support one another. Celebrate each other. Collaborate. That is the key to the past, the present and our future. This year has brought me so many different new things. New feelings, new challenges, new opportunities and new relationships. It has pushed me to find the time to understand why I like ‘things’ and why I feel connected to them, rather than just wanting things for the sake of wanting them. A new relationship that I developed this year, was with a woman named Kira West. We started chatting on Instagram about the world, our industry and what we believe in. She launched a jewelry collection, featuring a gold circle that holds a map of the world. More than ever now, we, as human beings desire to connect with one another. When I first saw the Bykwest World necklace — you see in one beautiful gold circle how small the world actually is and how we are connected. This will be a reminder of hope and bringing people together.”
Erin Wallace, vice president of integrated marketing at ThredUp
“It’s shocking how much waste is generated by the holiday season. If all holiday shoppers bought one gift used instead of new this holiday season, it would save or divert 1.3 billion pounds of CO2 created by new clothing production, the equivalent of taking nearly 50 million cars off the road for one day. What’s more, we’ve found that consumers are increasingly gifting secondhand apparel, motivated by a desire to cut waste. At ThredUp, we’re passionate about inspiring consumers to embrace secondhand and making it easy for retailers to implement circular solutions into their business models. My advice to retailers, brands and consumers is simple: think thrift.
“Besides ThredUp gift cards for all my nearest and dearest, I’m also giving extra love to my favorite small businesses. My absolute favorite local shop, Morningtide, introduced a corporate gifting program recently, and I’ll definitely be doing some holiday shopping from their awesome eco-friendly gifting edit (I gave my team the cutest custom gift baskets as early pandemic pick-me-ups). My daughter is a textbook Gen Zer so I’ll be getting her Doc Martens along with a new-with-tags pair of Levi’s Wedgie jeans that I got for a steal on ThredUp.”
Asha Kai, cofounder of Ultracor
“This year has been filled with surprises for everyone. I would say buy something for your loved ones that will bring them joy even if they are stuck at home. Giving something that will entice and excite them to work on their physical health is really important every year, but now more than ever. This year, I am giving the gift of technology to my fitness-loving friends, Ultracor’s Hypersonic legging is the best legging for any type of workout. Its built-in shapewear accentuates curves and the Compression 360 technology gives them the best workout of their life. At the top of my list is the CLMBR. It’s an at-home full-body workout system with built-in live workouts that help you reach for your full potential. It’s a must for the busy mom, even if I only have 20 minutes, I think this will help me continue on my fitness journey.”
Noelle Sadler, chief marketing officer at Lulus
“As an apparel brand, we’ve realized this year isn’t about ‘dazzling’ with holiday and getting prepped for all the parties, as much as we’d all love that. Instead, this holiday season it’s more about homing in on what makes you happy — and that can be as simple as getting dressed in normal clothes for a change. Putting on shoes, jeans or even a blazer to turn dinner at home or movie night into a special occasion, can be the ultimate self care.
“Wheels seem to be a theme this year, and our family has been really into roller skating. So, it’s skates for my daughter and my niece. I’m trying to give some love to local businesses, so I purchased them from a local skate shop. In that same vein, I’ll likely be gifting faraway family members with meals and flowers from local restaurants and florists to help support businesses that need it the most.”
Mary Moody, founder and chief executive officer at Made by Mary
“Less hurry, more heart. Pouring more love into your product. Leaning in and listening to what your customers need right now, especially during this pandemic. As a small business owner, I am trying to be intentional with the gifts I give and the places I shop this year and am making an effort to shop from other small businesses. [A few companies I am looking at are] Saranoni, Shop Plain Jane and Perk Energy. [For myself] such a hard decision, but it’s a tie between a ‘Two Peas & Their Pod’ cookbook, a Pebble Ice Maker to compliment my peach Fresca obsession, or a puppy for obvious reasons — but don’t tell my boys.”
Matt Petersen, chief executive officer of Opte
“[My advice is to] start early. With so much uncertainty around COVID-19 and in-store shopping, online is everything. As a retailer, if you aren’t already working and spending, it is probably too late.
“I love the fragrances from Du Bois. So I am looking to get that for the women in my life — my wife and daughter. My boys are so into sports that they are looking for as many jerseys as they can get their dirty little hands on. I am [also] a huge sports fan and I ride or die with the Lakers — and somewhat with the Dodgers. My physical gift is that I am working with a glassblower to make two custom made Laker and Dodger championship Christmas ornaments for the tree. I literally cannot wait to see them.”
Sacha Griguer, cofounder and chief executive officer of Magal Jewelry Group
“We always struggle to find the most appropriate gift when the holiday season is coming. From my experience, there is nothing better than a personalized gift. The person you’ll gift will feel [they are] getting a unique gift. For my wife — a sneakers lover — I’ll get a pair of Chanel kicks and a very nice full pavéd name necklace from Magal with the name of our newborn. Classic never goes out of style.”
Heidi Zak, cofounder and chief executive officer of ThirdLove
“People are looking for self-indulgence/treating themselves, we’ve seen strong sales so far of our cashmere jogger set. [I’m planning to gift] a set from Crown Affair or the Always Pan from Our Place. I have an [Theragun] on my list — it’s a great at-home massage.”
Katerina Schneider, founder and chief executive officer of Ritual
“People are prioritizing their health more than ever this year. Focus on how you may be able help them with that and also how you can simplify their lives during this unprecedented time. Some mothers have had to be caretakers, therapists, teachers, employees, etc. all at the same time. How are we supporting them and making their lives simpler during this period of time?
“On my list this year is a Hurom juicer. I’ll be giving an Osea Algae Mask, Nucifera Body Mist, Olive & June Pedicure set, one pound Bala Bangles and Ritual’s new kids gummy multivitamin.”