In the midst of it all last Friday sat Kat and Greg Payne, a young couple from Logan, Utah. They were taking a break from "gift-shopping" in the free massage chairs on the second floor. So far Greg, a 23-year-old brine shrimp harvester had two new baseball caps and Kat, a 22-year-old nursing student, had a new shirt.
"I needed a new hat but bought two. We went in and the guy was so nice. If it's a good sale, might as well," he said.
This is typical of our rationalizing when we self-gift. "Or we'll say 'I'll look better for my husband,' or 'This will make me happier, or a better cook.' We say to ourselves: 'By treating myself, I'm really helping others,' " said Paco Underhill, who has been writing about behavioral research and shopping since the 1970s.
Changing demographics have also played a role in the growth in self-gifting. Young working women with jobs, for example, are more likely today to be single and childless, meaning they have the freedom and resources to shop for themselves. More Americans in general are single, which retail experts say means they are less likely to get the gifts they want if they don't buy them for themselves.
That can lead to dark territory.
At their core, Underhill said, holiday gifts are the ultimate tokens of our feelings, physical representations of what we want to say to other people. I like you. I'm scared of you. I want to know you better. And he believes that our transient, often single culture can be a lonely one. We self-gift in order to say things to ourselves that other people aren't saying.
"We're looking," he said, "for little signs of self-worth we used to get from someone else."