8 Ways Consumers Holiday Shop Differently Across the U.S.

By Maris Cohen, Content Marketing Manager, The NPD Group

When it comes to how people feel and behave around the holiday retail season, it is by no means the same throughout the U.S. So when you divide the country into regions, some pretty cool trends emerge. Our partner, CivicScience, has been regularly polling more than 12,000 Americans online from September through December, asking them all types of questions, from what they hate about holiday shopping, to what they love, to the food they’re buying for holiday meals, and how far along they are in their holiday shopping.

For many of the trends, we’ve noticed a spectrum from West, to Midwest, to South, to Northeast. Generally speaking, patterns seem to emerge along this spectrum, so that the West/Northeast regions demonstrate the starkest contrast, and to a lesser degree in the Midwestern/Southern regions (but this isn’t always the case). Here are some notable differences we found:

  • The Western United States procrastinates on holiday shopping
    As of December 15, 34 percent of folks in the Western U.S. who planned to holiday shop hadn’t yet started. Perhaps the laid-back stereotype does apply here, as comparatively fewer (26 percent) northeasterners were late to the shopping game. If you’re expecting a gift from your New York friend this year, chances are it’s already under the tree. If your friend is from Tucson—well, let’s just say it may not be too late to influence his or her gift search.
  • When it comes to gifting, it’s all about northern beauty, southern phones, and western travel
    Our October 2015 Omnibus Survey shows the Western United States overindexed in the share of shoppers who plan to give travel-related gifts for the holidays, as well as the share of consumers who hope to receive travel-related gifts. This is consistent with the experiential trend we've been seeing – people wanting to do something, not just buy something. The Southern U.S. is into digital communication and tech; the region overindexed in the share of consumers who want to both give and receive mobile phones for the holidays. Northeasterners want to look good and eat well, judging by the fact that they overindexed in terms of plans to give beauty products and footwear and in hopes to receive beauty products and kitchen appliances. The Midwest overindexed in gifting books, and they have a higher tendency to wish for apparel this holiday.
  • The Northeast is more paper, the West is more pixel
    Northeasterners are more traditional when it comes to holiday greetings: 72 percent of those who send holiday greetings choose paper greeting cards (compared to 68 percent of westerners). In the West, 13 percent of consumers choose digital e-cards, which is much higher than the 7 percent of Northeasterners, 8 percent of Southerners, and 10 percent of Midwesterners who go digital.
  • Westerners dig real Christmas trees, Midwesterners go for the fake
    Given their proximity to a plethora of evergreens, you’d expect a greater percentage of people in the Northeast to opt for real Christmas trees instead of fake ones. Surprisingly, a larger percent of Westerners get real trees: of the Western Americans who purchase Christmas trees (polled on December 10), 39 percent choose real, compared to 34 percent of Northeasterners. In comparison, only 19 percent of Midwesterners choose real trees (perhaps reflecting their proximity, or lack thereof, to fresh fir trees).
  • Westerners’ holiday meals will probably be healthier than yours
    Big surprise: west-coast Americans will probably eat healthier holiday meals than the rest of the U.S. We found 35 percent of Westerners who shop for holiday meals claim to purchase “better-for-you” food/ingredients (e.g. organic, hormone/antibiotic-free, no artificial ingredients, low fat, etc.), according to an online poll conducted December 1–6, 2015. This differs from the Midwest region (26 percent), where health will play a smaller role around the family table at the holidays.
  • Southern Americans spent more, and Western Americans less this Cyber Monday compared to last year
    Is Cyber Monday losing relevance in the West? If you dished out more cash for TVs and electronics this Cyber Monday than you did last year, chances are greater that you hail from the Lone Star State than the Pine Tree State. A greater percentage of southern Cyber Monday shoppers spent more this year than last (44 percent), compared to only 36 percent of Northeastern shoppers (according to a poll conducted December 2-4, 2015). A greater percentage of Western Cyber Monday shoppers spent less this year than last (43 percent) compared to only 33 percent of Northeastern shoppers and 35 percent of Southern shoppers.
  • Midwestern America cares more about deals and less about cheer
    Who cares about tinsel and snowflakes when mega savings are at stake? The Midwest is less about holiday cheer and more about in-store deals. We found 35 percent love holiday music, decorations, and displays most about holiday shopping, which is comparatively lower than other regions (West: 43 percent; South: 43 percent; Northeast: 42 percent). But the Midwest is more appreciative of deals in stores: 26 percent like deals most, compared to 23 percent in the West, 25 in the South, and 22 percent in the Northeast, according to polling conducted from November 1 – December 15, 2015.
  • The West hates crowds, the Northeast hates lines
    Shoppers in the Western United States have less tolerance for crowds when in-store holiday shopping: a whopping 51 percent dislike crowds the most when shopping, compared to 47 percent in the South and Midwest and 45 percent in the Northeast, based on polling data from October 1—November 30, 2015. Northeasterners are less tolerant of lines (19 percent detest them) compared to the other regions (16 percent in the Midwest).

    Unsurprisingly, Southerners take greater issue with poor customer service (9 percent) compared to other Americans (6-7 percent).  Westerners are less concerned about the attitudes of other shoppers (13 percent) compared to other regions (16-17 percent). Perhaps this is because people in the West are generally happier due to better weather—but with global warming in the air and higher temps all around, Americans across the country may experience more positive vibes from their fellow consumers this year.

As the holiday retail season continues to play out, we should expect to see even more regional divides in consuming shopping behavior across the U.S.

Data Source: The NPD Group’s partner, CivicScience
*Unless otherwise stated, all survey data was conducted online by CivicScience from December 6 – December 15, 2015.

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