Some retail experts call this "gift conversion" — the dance you do in your head when you wind up buying for yourself after ostensibly going out to shop for someone else. Economic, demographic and generational changes, they say, have had a Pavlovian effect. Americans hear "Christmas" and think "massive bargain-shopping for all the stuff I didn't get during the year."
A major driver of what retailers refer to as "self-gifting" is the tough economy, which has transformed holiday retailing. There have been Black Friday sales for decades, but in the past, December was traditionally the month when retailers charmed customers with window displays rather than hitting them with sales pitches. "The conventional wisdom was: Why mark things down at the height of the season? Then it became convention," said Adam Hanft, a branding and marketing consultant who writes about consumer culture.
Selling has become more aggressive and more democratic as retailers compete for fewer dollars. Steep — then steeper — discounts prevail throughout December. Even places like Home Depot and Lowe's that aren't traditional Christmas stores are in the mix. Every store tries harder to reach every customer — no more Target for you and Neiman Marcus for me (the odd couple teamed up this season to create a shared product line, available at either store).