The mental toll of holiday shopping: What’s stressing out US consumers ahead of Christmas 2023
December 6th, 2023, Hoang Nguyen

The mental toll of holiday shopping: What’s stressing out US consumers ahead of Christmas 2023

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Discovering the perfect gifts for friends and loved ones can be quite a challenge, and this year presents additional hurdles that amplify the stress of holiday shopping beyond the norm.

A recent study from YouGov conducted on the mental toll of holiday shopping reveals that roughly half (53%) of people who plan to buy gifts are stressed out about the prospect of doing so this year.

Inflation is a big reason for this year’s unease, and we’re seeing more people worried about the impact of inflation on their holiday shopping in 2023 compared to 2022. The survey findings also point to several other reasons contributing to why shoppers feel stressed.

Here are the top challenges putting pressure on holiday shoppers’ mental wellness and the ways brands can help make the shopping experience easier for consumers this holiday season.

The impact of inflation on holiday shopping looms large

There’s growing unease among shoppers as they grapple with the financial strains imposed by inflation. Surging by 8 points from the previous year, 65% of consumers now anticipate a moderate to major impact of inflation on their budgets (up from 57% in 2022). Notably, 34% of US adults expect inflation to have a major impact on their holiday shopping—a noticeable uptick from the preceding year’s 30%.

An additional 16% say inflation will have a minor impact on their holiday shopping and 10% say they expect no impact on their holiday shopping at all.

Certain income groups are particularly acute to the financial implications of holiday shopping amid the current economic conditions. Households with a combined income of less than $40,000 a year are significantly more likely to say inflation will have a major impact on their shopping compared to those who make $80,000 or more (40% vs. 25%).

Top reasons shoppers are stressed

Delving deeper into the emotional landscape of shoppers reveals a nuanced picture of why people feel stressed about gift shopping.

  • Financial implications: High costs and the potential of going into debt weigh heavily on the minds of 68% of stressed-out shoppers. While this is the top reason among across gender and age, women (71%) are more likely to point to this reason than men (63%) and those aged 55 and over (74%) are more likely to say those aged 18-34 (58%).

  • Gifting to please: A third (32%) of stressed-out shoppers say it’s hard to choose gifts people will like.

  • Lack of deals and inventory issues: A fifth (21%) of stressed shoppers say they don’t see any deals or sales that they want and an additional 21% say they’re concerned about the availability of products.

  • Burden of multiple giftees: 19% of stressed-out holiday shoppers say they have too many people to shop for. This stressor is especially apparent among young consumers aged 18-34, who are nearly twice as likely to say they’re stressed out for this reason (35%).

  • Additionally, other significant stressors taking a psychological toll on the holiday shopping experiences include time constraints (13%), expensive delivery and return options (13%) and apprehension about gifts arriving on time (13%).

Shifting priorities in shopping experiences

Consumer priorities this holiday season also exhibit notable changes from last year. The demand for free delivery and returns has increased, with 64% indicating free delivery is essential to them this year—an increase of 10 points from 2022 (54%). Similarly, 51% now say free returns are essential, marking a 6-point uptick.

Moreover, the demand for “buy now, pay later (BNPL)” financing options is on the rise, with 17% considering it an essential shopping experience—a 3-point increase from the preceding year. An additional 31% regard BNPL as a desirable but non-essential part of holiday shopping in 2023.

Looking closer at holiday shoppers who say inflation will have a major impact on their holiday shopping shows that they’ll depend on these shopping experiences more heavily than the average holiday shopper. They deem the following to be essential to their ability to get their holiday shopping done this year:

  • Free delivery (70% vs. 64% of all holiday shoppers)
  • Free returns (63% vs. 51%)
  • Buy now pay later financing options (36% vs. 17%)

We see that the holiday season can be an emotionally charged time. This year in particular many consumers are struggling with the mental toll of inflation, financial constraints and an array of stressors looming in their minds. Despite these challenges, the festive shopping spirit persists, driving 92% of US consumers to say they’ll do some form of holiday shopping this year.

Brands can build an emotional bond with consumers and create stronger connections by being mindful of both the joys and stresses of the season.


This YouGov study was conducted online between Nov. 9-10, 2023, with a nationally representative sample of 1,150 adults aged 18+ in the United States.