John McNeil Studio

Trends in Gifting

JMS Blog

Strategy Sessions unpack a topic of  interest discussed within the JMS strategy team. From business trends to personal passions and everything in between, these conversations spark innovation and help us find new ways of thinking.

This Week's Topic: Gifting

With Thanksgiving kicking off our 2022 holiday season, the retail mania synonymous with December has officially begun. While some brands and customers may still value the idealistic image of winter in-store shopping with a dozen bags in tow, the reality is this: retail has changed, with many brands and consumers alike shifting their perspective on what it means to give and receive in our long-ingrained culture of mandated consumption. The JMS Strategy team recently discussed trends in holiday giving – and some new ways of thinking about the whole enterprise, too.


In the past few years, there’s been an uptick in brands defying the very nature of Black Friday. From REI committing to always close their doors on Black Friday to Google redirecting focus towards #BlackOwnedFriday, more and more companies are proving there’s more to their mission than just their bottom line. On an individual consumer basis, people are finding unique ways to cut through the clutter of consumption.

“The retail model is that everyone does their shopping in the last month and a half of the year, even though we push Christmas starting in October.”

– Hannah Barr-DiChiara, Director of Communications and Culture

“What's feeding this retail monster is how closely tied the idea of identity is to gift giving. You’re not only getting something for a person you care for, but you’re also validating yourself in your ability to know and understand someone, to recognize their wants and needs so clearly.”

– Sarah Jessee, Strategy Director, Editorial Content

“That saying ‘it’s the thought that counts,’ is not very relevant in practice. It’s actually the quality of the thought that matters. What’s most meaningful is to find a way into gift giving beyond the pervasive social pressure to participate in this transactional experience. When people slow down and approach it differently, that frenzy mindset starts to shift.”

– Isabella Welch, Copywriter


To challenge the status quo of extravagant gift giving, the trend in giving “experiences” instead of traditional items has steadily grown. From things like pottery classes to kayaking trips, spa days to concert tickets, the landscape of “experiences” is rich and infinitely more personal. The question remains: how can the action of giving an experience be as anticipatory and exhilarating as unwrapping a present?

“Ever since the beginning of Covid, people have been investing in their spaces, but now it seems to be going to experiences.”

– Sarah Jessee, Strategy Director, Editorial Content

“It comes from a beautiful place, people want to get nice things for the people they love. My family’s thing is, we all have to get experiences for one another, and we do whatever the experience is, all together. Everyone knows how to market a product, that’s clear. So even though people may value experiences over products, the actual market around how we buy experiences, how we sell experiences, how we advertise experiences is still pretty undeveloped.”

– Laura Ogle, Senior Strategist, Innovations

I don’t see any ads for genuinely unique experience-based gifts, it’s almost like brands haven’t found a way to market them. I feel like they aren’t doing a great job publicizing the fact that they exist, and the ones I see most commonly are too expensive or don’t seem to target the individual most likely to enjoy the experience.”

– Claudia Isbell, Junior Strategist

Personas + Gift guide: There’s no longer just one big ticket item, you’ve got to shop to the person.

For your…

Work Best Friend - Here’s to  the work best friend that makes Monday through Friday that much sweeter. Shop these SFW gifts.

Papier Customized Journal - Options for any style

Sculpd Pottery Starter Bundle - For the creative person with any skill level

Coffee Subscription from Nomadic  - Perfect for Coffee Lovers; a Berkeley-based roaster

Earth-Loving Parent: Sustainable gifts for those who are always there, and are often the most difficult to shop for.

The Gardener - For plateware, paperweights, books, small gifts, and more; Berkeley

Camping Hammock - Upgrade your park game with any of these recommended brands

Climate Emergency Fund - A donation based gift

Traveling Sibling: For the sibling (or family member) that’s always hitting the road, these items will make sure they’re ready for the adventure.

Understory Outdoorsy Accessories - Unique, high fashion, and high quality pieces

Bombas socks - Socks and more, one purchase = one donated

Royce and Rocket Luggage - Cool packing system and beautifully designed luggage

Cincha Travel – An Oakland-based travel accessory brand

Hostess with the Most-est:
Whether it be at a New York City studio, Austin flat, or California house, here are some unique items for your friends that love to come together for food—no matter the occasion.

Embroidered Tablecloth - Small businesses on Etsy to browse through

Heath Ceramics - A timeless gift of handmade California pottery

Omnivore Books - A cookbook-based shop

Oakland Yard Wine Club Membership - A local option for the wine enthusiast

Umami Mart - Spirits, glassware, ingredients, and more

Oaktown Spice Shop Spice Sets - Spice sets for the home-cook

Melanie Abrantes Design - Dinnerware by a local Bay Area maker

Trend Setting Partner
: For the internet-savvy, influencer-following ,and impossible-to-buy-for, look no further than the latest on-trend gifts.

New York Times - Customized coffee table book

Apartamento Magazine subscription - A gift that lasts all year

Reliquary SF Jewelry - Unique, locally-made jewelry

Young Ones: Calling all first time aunties, parents, friends with kids, and more, here are some creative go-tos.

Baby Cats of California - Clothing hand printed in Oakland, with sizes for kids and adults

Merci Milo - Unique toys from Los Angeles artisans

Milk Teeth Clothing - Ungendered clothing for kids

Membership to Academy of Sciences - For the whole family

Mrs. Dalloway’s Books - Literature and Garden Arts, Berkeley