Many consumer-behavior experts say people feel more entitled to gifts than they once did. Marketers home in on this feeling and shopping symbiosis ensues. "People feel more deserving than they did, broadly," Hanft said. "Fifty years ago if you asked people, 'Is it appropriate to buy yourself a gift?' They would have said: 'Wrong.' Now a huge number says it's right. I think that's a sea change in values."
Kit Yarrow, a Golden Gate University professor of business and psychology, said marketers have "hammered home the point that: 'You deserve something.' For previous generations, gratitude had a bigger role in gift-giving. People's expectations of what they should have are different." In her book "Gen Buy," Yarrow focused on buyers in their 20s and teens and argued that the concept of giving yourself a present registers much differently for younger Americans.
Which is to say, it doesn't. "They've been exposed their whole life to this idea that you're special, you deserve it," she said.
The BIGinsight poll found that 72 percent of shoppers 18 to 24 said they planned to shop for themselves, compared with lower percentages as people age. Of people 55 to 64, for example, 50 percent said they planned to buy non-gifts during the holiday season.
In the past decade, advertising has increasingly reflected this. Last holiday season saw — in addition to J. Crew's "To: You, From: You" — the Gap's "Tuck Yourself In" and "One for you, one for me" from Starbucks. Such ads, said Yarrow, "became a mantra for everyone."
Shoppers like Pentagon City's Wyder-flowers are bombarded by conflicting messages about gift-giving. Piles of faux gifts and oversize checklists of people to buy for compete with ad campaigns like BCBG's "Have you been naughty or nice?" and Macy's "Treat yourself."