While We’re Fond of Tradition, Online Shopping Has Plenty of Fans

You might think in this era of constant emails and social media postings that old-style paper Christmas or holiday cards and formatted letters summarizing a family’s year might be peculiarities. Not so. In a modern age, our behavior still trends toward the traditional.

That’s just one of the findings about America’s current holiday customs from the Saint Leo University Polling Institute. The poll also revealed current preferences in monetary gifts, and means of shopping, whether online or in physical stores.

The national poll of 1,002 respondents found that 43 percent of respondents send stock cards, and another 22 percent send either custom-printed cards or custom photo cards. That means that more than two-thirds of people are mailing paper holiday greetings.

What’s more, people are eager to read what they receive in physical mailboxes. When asked how much attention they pay to one- or two-page form letters that are compilations of family news from friends, 62 percent of respondents said they read the letters carefully. Another 24 percent at least skim the letters or look them over.

“People understand the world around them through stories,” Dr. Diane Monahan, a Saint Leo University communication scholar, said in commenting on why people are eager to read one another’s letters, even when they are form letters and only annual events. “We still find a need for these stories even if it’s only once a year.”

Gift Cards/Cash

The same poll found that people might be conflicted about what form a gift should take. And it makes a big difference whether you are giving or receiving a gift.

People were presented with the hypothetical example of a gift of $25 in value. When asked if they would prefer to give someone else a gift with a $25 value, a gift certificate or card with a $25 value, or simply $25 in cash, the responses showed 39 percent of people prefer to give a gift certificate. Another 24 percent said they prefer to select a gift while a roughly equal amount favor giving cash.

But when it comes to receiving, by nearly three to one, people would prefer receiving $25 in cash (41 percent) rather than a gift that cost $25 (14 percent). Thirty percent said they prefer a gift certificate.

John Pantzalis, Saint Leo University associate professor of marketing, explained that for someone receiving a gift, cash is desirable because it can be applied to any need or want. “Gift buying is inefficient.” Gift cards and certificates are appealing to givers, he said, said because givers feel they are combining the flexibility of cash with a personal touch and are demonstrating: “I want to buy you something, and I put in a little bit of effort.”

Where We Shop

More Americans still prefer to shop in a physical store (49 percent) than shop online (38 percent). But among shoppers who are younger than 40, 48 percent prefer to shop online. People in households with more than $70,000 in household income also have a preference for shopping online.

The findings tend to reinforce what we know about technology usage, Dr. Pantzalis said. Younger people can be earlier adopters of innovation, as can more affluent consumers. “Online shopping is a matter of technology and education,” he said.

The data comes from the inaugural national survey conducted by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute in early December and has a margin of error of about 3 percent.

To view poll results click here.