SOURCE: Context-Based Research Group

November 10, 2009 11:47 ET

New Holiday Shopping Study Concludes Sales May Be Down, but Joy Will Be Up This Season

Quantitative Study by Context-Based Research Group and Carton Donofrio Partners Finds 43 Percent Believe the Recession Has Had a Positive Impact on Their Lives

BALTIMORE, MD--(Marketwire - November 10, 2009) - Expect more joy this holiday season. As part of an ongoing effort to monitor the changing attitudes of U.S. consumers, Context-Based Research Group, an ethnographic research company, and Carton Donofrio Partners, a marketing firm in Baltimore, revealed survey results that suggest people are poised to experience more happiness this holiday season despite the economic downturn.

"It's counter-intuitive, but a significant portion of respondents -- 43 percent -- believe the recession had a positive impact on their lives. This feeling's priming people for a truly joyous holiday," said Dr. Robbie Blinkoff, principal anthropologist and co-founder of Context-Based Research Group. "Interestingly, those who have been most impacted by the recession are just as likely to say their lives have been positively affected as those who have not been impacted by the recession."

The study included 1,000 U.S. adults and was fielded on October 7-11, 2009. It comes one year after the pair released their research report entitled, "Grounding the American Dream: A Cultural Study on the Future of Consumerism in a Changing Economy." That report found consumers beginning a "rite of passage" in which they'd form an identity around a new kind of consumerist behavior -- grounded consumerism. The new study, previewed today, provides an updated, quantitative look at the cultural transformation and validates the team's initial predictions.

"Retailers may be hoping this holiday shopping season will be more robust than 2008, but the research suggests Americans will keep a tight grip on their pocketbooks while finding enjoyment through activities that are less consumer-centric and more meaningful," said Dr. Cleve Corlett, director of quantitative research at Context-Based Research Group.

Along with a more joyous holiday season, the survey also suggests half of all adults plan to gift-give in the form of volunteering and, echoing post-9/11 behavior, over four-fifths of respondents are planning to spend more time with family and friends this season compared to recent years. Even people who say they were not impacted directly by the recession said that they will gift-give in the form of volunteering (34 percent) and spend more time with friends and family (78 percent).

"The significance of the shift from gift purchases to social gatherings shouldn't be lost on retailers who can offer products and services that facilitate these interactions," noted Jamie Rice, chief strategy officer at Carton Donofrio Partners. "We believe retailers need to gently nurture customers this holiday season rather than aggressively targeting them as they may have in past years."

The researchers also believe the emphasis on the "social" this year is an indicator of the continuing shift to the "We" economy.

"Our previous work showed people moving away from the individualist 'Me' economy into a more altruistic 'We' economy -- a 'relational' rather than 'transactional' situation. This research further supports this shift," said Blinkoff.

Additional Findings

Holiday spending overall

--  Over four-fifths of respondents (84%) indicate that they "plan to
    spend less this year on holiday gifts" while two-fifths (43%) "strongly"
    agree that they will spend less.

Homemade gifts

--  There's little indication that homemade gifts will supplant the store-
    bought variety. While just over a third of adults plan on making more of
    their holiday gifts than in past years (39%), only a tenth (11%) strongly
    indicate this intention. Consumers have less money to spend in '09, but it
    doesn't mean they've regained the time and patience for gift making
    possessed by Americans in bygone eras.

Context will release full findings from their survey on the post-recession grounded consumer in early 2010. Context's study from one year ago, "Grounding the American Dream" can be downloaded for free at


The sample for this survey was balanced to ensure representativeness of the U.S. population in terms of gender, income, race, age and region. Survey panelists, recruited through telephone interviewing, online advertisements and through word of mouth, are culled for activity and quality. The omnibus was executed by sending invitations to a census representative population of 1,000. Once the data was gathered, key demographic points were weighted to represent the census numbers.

Context-Based Research Group is an ethnographic research and consulting firm that has provided companies with an anthropological perspective since 1999. Context's global network of cultural anthropologists observes and interprets human behavior to uncover the reasons why people do what they do. The end result brings clients closer to the actual experience of their customers and leads to development of better products and services. For more information, go to:

Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc.

Carton Donofrio Partners is an award-winning full-service marketing communications firm in the mid-Atlantic region. With a reputation for leadership and expertise in integrated marketing, the firm helps companies improve their customer experience, loyalty and equity by using advertising, interactive, public relations, and brand management. Carton Donofrio Partners has global capabilities through Worldwide Partners, the largest strategic business network of 91 independent, owner-operated marketing and communications firms across 54 countries. Carton Donofrio Partners has received numerous awards, including several National ADDYs and a London International Award for its groundbreaking work. For more information, visit or call 410.576.9000.

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