CTA’s 2021 Holiday Gift Rankings: The Wish-Give Gap

Maybe it’s human nature, but when it comes to holiday presents there’s a chasm between what people desire and what they intend to give.

In a survey released on November 10th by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the number one thing on adult wish lists are smartphones. But the number one item they plan to give are earbuds or headphones.

Any of these items fit in a stocking or a gift box. The big difference is purchase price.

Notably, while buds and headphones span in price from well under $99 to hundreds of dollars, the average smartphone now costs $317 (according to Statista) with a premium phone costing many hundreds of dollars more.

The second most sought-after electronics item on people’s wish lists are a laptop or notebook computer. But number two on people’s plan-to-give lists are a streaming or download service such as Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+ or Apple TV+. In the laptop segment, the average price in 2020 was almost $800, according to Statista. On the other hand, you can buy a Netflix Gift Card from Walmart for as little as $30.

Third on the wish list is electronic wearables like a smartwatch. But third on the give list is a mobile device case, e.g., phone case.

The What I Wish For/What I’ll Gift rankings are based on responses from more than 2,000 U.S. adults surveyed online in September, according to Lesley Rohrbaugh, director of research for the CTA.

For two years in a row now, television sets are the fourth-choice favorite for what adults wish for, while battery chargers persist as the fifth-choice favorite as things people plan to give. Unsurprisingly, battery chargers are missing from wish lists, and TV sets fail to appear on the short lists of what people intend to give. (See above chart for the complete breakdown.)

Children’s wish lists were not surveyed. The reason has nothing to do with a monopoly claimed by Santa. Explained Rohrbaugh, “Adults are those ages 18+, and we ensure the sample is representative of the U.S. population. We typically focus on the adult spending as they have a bigger wallet share dedicated to gifting and tend to buy many products for themselves—41 percent indicated they’ll purchase a tech product for themselves this season.”

The research is part of the 28th Annual Consumer Technology Holiday Purchase Patterns Study released by the CTA, formerly the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).