How Many Shopping Days Until Christmas? a Preliminary Investigation of Time Pressures, Deadlines, and Planning Levels on Holiday Gift Purchases

Anthony D. Miyazaki, University of South Carolina
ABSTRACT - An investigation into the effects of purchase planning levels and deadlines on Christmas gift-purchasing behavior found that consumers' feelings of time pressure increase as Christmas approaches, and are more extreme for those with self-imposed deadlines. The extent to which consumers plan their purchases was also found to be related to their sense of felt time pressure. The study supported the assumption that the environment surrounding holiday gift purchasing serves as an excellent context in which to study time pressures and purchase planning in consumer research.
[ to cite ]:
Anthony D. Miyazaki (1993) ,"How Many Shopping Days Until Christmas? a Preliminary Investigation of Time Pressures, Deadlines, and Planning Levels on Holiday Gift Purchases", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 331-335.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Pages 331-335


Anthony D. Miyazaki, University of South Carolina

[The author gratefully acknowleges the constructive comments of the anonymous reviewers. In addition, thanks are due for Joe Urbany, Colette Rushton Miyazaki, Carol Fiske, and Lisa Luebbehusen for helpful comments and for assistance in data collection.]


An investigation into the effects of purchase planning levels and deadlines on Christmas gift-purchasing behavior found that consumers' feelings of time pressure increase as Christmas approaches, and are more extreme for those with self-imposed deadlines. The extent to which consumers plan their purchases was also found to be related to their sense of felt time pressure. The study supported the assumption that the environment surrounding holiday gift purchasing serves as an excellent context in which to study time pressures and purchase planning in consumer research.


The scarce nature of time plays a unique role in the environment surrounding consumer decisions and actions. All consumer activities have an element of time, and consequently, time and time-related constructs are often used to further understand consumer behavior. From a perspective of planning and choice, consumers are often "forced" to choose between alternatives because of time constraints or "deadlines." These choices may be as simple as deciding which of two television programs to watch when both are to be shown at the same time (without the aid of the "time saving" VCR), or may be more complex, for example, choosing between investment strategies while constrained by investment or tax deadlines.

The importance of the various perceptions and uses of time has already been established in the consumer behavior literature (e.g., Feldman and Hornik 1981; Hirschman 1987; Holbrook and Lehmann 1981; Jacoby, Szybillo, and Berning 1976). In a recent paper exploring the role of time in consumer actions, Bergadaa (1990) advocates further research into the underlying reasons and the manifestations of differing temporal orientations, as well as other time-related activities such as consumer planning and decision-making. The extent to which consumers plan has been found to be related to temporal variables in certain consumption environments (see Holbrook and Lehmann 1981; Park, Iyer, and Smith 1989). In addition, societal norms implying the "appropriate" use of time (Schroeder 1989), as well as self-imposed time restrictions (cf. Rizkalla 1989), may impact consumer planning strategies and subsequent behavior.

Gift purchasing in relation to the Christmas holiday season offers a particularly unique opportunity to study the intricacies of time pressures, deadlines, and time perceptions on general consumer behavior, in that a large number of people have a societal deadline by which they "must" purchase (and prepare) Christmas gifts. In addition to the societal deadline (being Christmas Day or Christmas Eve), many consumers form self-imposed deadlines by which they intend to complete their Christmas shopping. Preliminary interviews with consumers revealed various reasons for these deadlines (e.g., "I like to get [my Christmas shopping] done early to avoid the rush" and "we're going to visit my in-laws and we leave on the 21st").

This study examines the impact of time pressures and personal deadlines, (both psychological representations of time), as well as the actual passage of time (in relation to a set "societal" deadline), on planning levels and other aspects of gift-purchasing situations.


In its own right, the study of gift-giving behavior has been well researched by a number of scholars (e.g., Belk 1976; Caplow 1982, 1984; Sherry 1983), who have alerted the academic world of the importance of gift-giving behavior and its role in consumer research. The majority of the studies seem to focus on gift giving in general, with fewer studies narrowing the scope to direct more emphasis on the activities directly surrounding the actual purchase of gifts.

In Sherry's (1983) process model of gift-giving behavior, the purchase (or creation) of a gift is the final step in the "gestation stage" of this process. The purchase transaction is the step that would seem to be most salient to retailers in their positions as sellers, and is one of the two main physical transactions (or exchanges) in the gift-giving process (the other being the actual "giving" of the gift). This, coupled with the economic impact of gift purchases, particularly during the Christmas season (cf. Cutler 1989), emphasizes the importance of studying this phenomenon and its accompanying characteristics.

Belk (1982) reported that gift selection strategies differ depending on the recipient, but found mixed results regarding the proposed level of involvement and the consumer's self-justification of spending more time and effort on the selection. A recent study by Fischer and Arnold (1990) that considers gender differences in Christmas gift shopping found that women start shopping earlier in the year than men, spend more hours shopping (per gift), and give more gifts.

Although much research has investigated the impact and relevance of time with respect to consumer acquisition of frequently purchased items (e.g., Iyer 1989; Park et al. 1989; Umesh, Pettit, and Bozman 1989), time pressures and deadlines for gift purchasing have not been covered as thoroughly. Although the purchasing of gifts may occur regularly, the purchase of each new gift is a unique experience and carries with it new meaning depending on the situation surrounding the purchase, such as the occasion, the recipient, etc. (Belk 1982; Sherry 1983; Wagner, Ettenson, and Verrier 1990). It is important to note that the types of decisions and planning strategies that are affiliated with gift purchases are not necessarily the same as those for other consumer goods (Belk 1982; Caplow 1984; Sherry 1983).


Several studies have focused on the relations between time pressures and the planning levels of shoppers (e.g., Park et al. 1989; Wright 1974). The current study differs from former studies in two ways:

(1) While the majority of the previous studies have dealt with supermarket shopping or other personal buying, this study investigates the purchase aspect of gift-giving behavior (previously mentioned as involving a different set of selection and purchase strategies).

(2) Many previous studies have used time pressure measurements dealing with more immediate time units (i.e., minutes), while this study furthers the investigation into deadlines and time pressure from a more distant perspective (measured in days and weeks).

The purpose of this study is to test preliminary hypotheses concerning temporal aspects (both physical and psychological) of gift-purchasing behavior. The study has been designed as a tool to explore various relationships dealing with gift-purchasing behavior that may serve to distinguish this phenomenon from other consumer activities, or conversely, to illustrate its similarities. Our goal is to present useful ideas and empirical support that may serve to further the understanding of time and its impact on consumer behavior, as well as add to the understanding of gift-giving behavior and planning strategies.


Deadlines and Time Pressure

The context of this study differs from the majority of the others that have investigated planning levels and time pressures. Nevertheless, based on preliminary interviews with shoppers, several previously suggested hypotheses (cf. Iyer 1989; Park et al. 1989) were presumed to be appropriate.

The first hypotheses concern the time pressure felt by consumers in regard to two temporal aspects, an actual (societal) deadline and self-imposed deadlines.

H1: As Christmas nears, gift shoppers will have less time to make purchases (time measured in days and weeks), and will therefore experience a greater sense of time pressure in relation to the task of purchasing gifts.

H2: Consumers who set self-imposed deadlines for completion of their holiday shopping will feel more time pressure than those who do not.

In a study on grocery shopping behavior, Iyer (1989) found supporting evidence that shoppers in that context made fewer unplanned purchases when under time pressure. For the current study, we propose that consumers who experience a higher level of felt time pressure in reference to completing their Christmas gift shopping will have less time for "browsing" and will thus plan purchases to a greater extent. Thus, the following hypothesis concerns the relation between perceptions of time pressure and the degree of purchase planning.

H3: Consumers making "planned" purchases will report higher Christmas shopping time pressure scores than those making "unplanned" purchases.

The rationale behind H3 is that a completely unplanned shopping approach necessitates having enough time to explore the selection of gifts available. A consumer who feels pressed for time may not take this more leisurely approach, and will instead plan purchases to some extent. This hypothesis suggests that the purchasing of gifts and of other consumer goods is similar in respect to the effects of time pressure on the level of planning.

Price Concerns

Berry (1979) suggests that as time becomes scarce, consumers are more likely to trade other resources to save time (see also Becker 1965). This potential trade-off between time and money leads us to our next hypothesis.

H4: The more time pressure a consumer feels, the less concern he or she will have in regard to the price of the gift, thus more will be spent on the gift item.

Several informal hypotheses and considerations concerning time pressures and planning levels were also tested. These are discussed in the analysis section of this paper.

Data Collection

The study was conducted during the four Saturdays preceding Christmas 1991 in a large city (regional population>500,000) in the United States. In order to contact consumers when felt time pressure was salient, a mall intercept technique was employed in which three trained interviewers were placed inside the mall by the main entrance (a high traffic area).

Data were collected with a paper-and-pencil instrument, with some initial guidance by the interviewers. The interviewers asked consumers to fill out the surveys only if the consumer had already purchased a gift that day. This was necessary since many of the questions dealt with respondent feelings on the day of the purchase, and it was assumed that these feelings would be more accessible if they were solicited on that day. Each respondent was initially asked to identify his or her most recent gift purchase, and then to answer several questions (described later) concerning the level of planning that went into that purchase. The remainder of the questionnaire was completed without the aid of the interviewer, and consisted of a series of Likert-type items, frequency reports, and demographic items.

Response rates were spread evenly across weeks and across interviewers, averaging 73% for the study as a whole, and resulting in 230 usable surveys (four were not usable). A pretest (n=20) had been conducted several weeks earlier to refine the wording of the items. Any differences in item responses due to interviewers were not statistically significant.

Sample demographics were compared with demographics for the metropolitan area. Per capita income was not significantly different; the median age of the sample was slightly higher than that of the area; and certain minority groups were underrepresented. Although the sample was approximately 74% female, it has been reported that women buy more gifts and are much more active as Christmas shoppers (Fischer and Arnold 1990). Considering that the scope of this paper is to explore purchase behaviors of Christmas gift shoppers, and not necessarily to generalize findings across all types of purchasing, we feel that the sample is adequate for the study.

Measures [The data collection instrument is available upon request.]

A number of measures of time and time-related constructs were used in the study (cf. Hornik 1984). Those pertinent to this particular paper are described below:

Actual time: (in weeks) leading up to Christmas.

Deadline: whether the respondent had a self-imposed deadline to finish his or her Christmas shopping.

Time left until deadline: how many days left until the deadline (or how many days after it had passed).

Felt time pressure for Christmas shopping: a subjective (psychological) measure of feeling rushed to complete the Christmas shopping task.

Felt time pressure for normal shopping: the same scale as above, but applied to normal, everyday shopping.

Month started: when the respondent started his or her holiday shopping.

Single-item measures were appropriate for the majority of the time-related constructs. The responses to three 7-point Likert-type items relating to feeling rushed to complete one's shopping were summed to produce the Christmas shopping time pressure scale, as well as three others for the normal shopping time pressure scale (standardized alphas were .729 and .585, respectively).

Concern for price also consisted of the sum of three 7-point Likert-type items (standardized a=.645). The reader is reminded that this study is preliminary and that more rigorous scales would be suggested for future research (although similar coefficient alphas have been reported in related research [e.g., Umesh et al. 1989]). Also included was Rizkalla's (1989) attitude toward shopping scale (standardized a=.778).

A principal components analysis revealed that all items loaded highly on the first factor for each scale (with the exception of one item in the shopping scale). The scale used to measure the concern about the price of the current gift purchase was found to be negatively correlated with the price of the item (r=-.1856; p_.01), contributing to confidence in the measure.

Initial analysis showed that across time, respondents did not differ in their attitude toward shopping nor in the extent of their purchase planning levels. Demographic variables were also found to be similar across data collection periods, suggesting that there were no biases due to which week the data were collected.

The levels of purchase planning were delineated in a manner similar to Kollat and Willett (1967), with the modification of two of their five levels. Kollat and Willett's "general need recognized" and "general need not recognized" were changed to "purchase generally planned" and "no purchase planned," consistent with Piron (1989). ("Purchase generally planned" refers to a situation when a consumer desires to make a purchase, but has not planned on buying in a specific product class or category.)

There are two reasons underlying this change. First, considering that the formation of a need is presumably a complex and often continuous event, we found it difficult to formulate an appropriate measure of "general need" recognition, while "purchase generally planned" appears to be a more direct stage in the planning process (and in this instance refers to the consumer planning to purchase at least some item). We also found it difficult to make an appropriate distinction between when a need was only generally recognized versus when that need (or desire) was converted to an intention to purchase in the product class. Preliminary interviews with shoppers revealed this to be a difficulty for consumers as well.

Unlike Piron (1989), Kollat and Willett's (1967) terminology is retained for the other three planning levels. The series of items used to determine the level of purchase planning is listed below (cf. Piron 1989; Kollat and Willett 1967):

As you entered the mall and started shopping today,


Corresponding planning levels:

1. No purchase planned

2. Purchase generally planned

3. Product class only (e.g., clothing)

4. Product class and category (e.g., pants)

5. Product class, category, and brand (e.g., Levi's)

It should be noted that this study investigated the levels of planned and unplanned purchases, but did not inquire into the complexities of "impulse" purchasing behavior (e.g., Rook 1987).


Deadlines and time pressure

To test H1, an analysis of variance was performed on the shopping time pressure score over the four weeks of data. The assumption that consumers feel more holiday shopping time pressure as Christmas nears was supported (F=10.29; p<.001). ScheffT multiple comparison tests revealed differences at a=.05 among the following groups (in this case, weeks): 1&3, 1&4, and 2&4 (with week 4 being the closest to Christmas).

The data also support the hypothesis (H2) that shoppers with self-imposed deadlines felt more time pressure on average than those without these deadlines (F=17.31; p<.001).

In order to evaluate the effectiveness of the measure, the holiday shopping time pressure score was compared with the "normal" shopping time pressure score. The holiday time pressure was statistically higher for weeks 2 (p<.05), and weeks 3 and 4 (p<.001). Figure 1 illustrates these comparisons. Additionally, the amount of time left until the deadline was found to be negatively correlated with the amount of felt time pressure for Christmas shopping (r= -.4067, p_.01).

To test H3, the levels of planning were categorized into "planned" and "unplanned" purchases in the following manner. "Unplanned" purchases were considered to be those for which the consumer did not plan to purchase the product class, category, or brand, even if a general desire to purchase something was present (i.e., "browsing"). In other words, a consumer that reported being in the mall to make a "general purchase," but had not planned to buy in the class purchased, would be classified as having made an "unplanned" purchase. In reference to the planning scale mentioned previously, unplanned purchases are designated as levels 1 and 2, while planned purchases are levels 3, 4, and 5.

An analysis of variance for the reported holiday shopping time pressure for planned and unplanned purchases across time periods supported H3 (F=6.37; p=.012). The average holiday shopping time pressure score for planned purchases (11.23) was higher than that of the unplanned purchases (9.41), supporting the assertion that less time pressure is associated with a greater tendency to "shop around." As pointed out by one reviewer, if it is posited that time pressure affects the likelihood of planning purchases, the use of ANOVA may be of concern. Thus, a chi-square was also performed using a median-split of the time pressure variable. It was statistically significant in the hypothesized direction (c2=8.98, p=.003).

An analysis across all five planning levels was also statistically significant (F=2.58, p=.039; or c2=13.14, p=.011). The time pressure scores tended to peak at the class and category planning levels, falling at the brand planning level. (The difference in time pressure scores for class and brand planning levels is statistically significant at a=.10). As suggested by a reviewer, the same tests were also conducted for only those people without self-imposed deadlines in order to alleviate concern of a confound between deadlines and time pressure. The results were the same.



Although the initial hypothesis did not specify the degree of planning that would take place, this condition may warrant further investigation. It could be argued that the actual time saved by planning purchases at the brand level may truly be lower than at the category and class levels, thus the higher sense of time pressure. In other words, planning the exact brand may not save time (and thus, alleviate time pressure) if the consumer must search several stores to find the exact item without being able to make a substitution (i.e., another brand). (An alternate explanation suggested by one of the reviewers is that once the purchaser plans the gift to the brand level, the pressure of making the decision is lessened, and perhaps felt time pressure is reduced.)

Price Concerns

No evidence could be found to suggest that additional time pressure would elicit a decrease in concern for price or an increase in item price; thus, H4 was not supported. (Increased time pressure was, however, correlated with regret about the price paid: r=.26, p_.01.) It appears that consumers in this context were not willing to exchange money for time, as suggested by Berry (1979). Yet the purchase planning analyses suggest that time may more likely be exchanged with a forfeiture of choice (i.e., no browsing or shopping around), since time pressured shoppers were more likely to choose a higher planning level than to enjoy the luxury of the more relaxed, browsing strategy.

Additional Findings

Considering the diversity of the findings reported in the planning and impulse purchasing literature regarding what percentage of purchases are unplanned (see Cobb and Hoyer 1986 for a review), we report the following data on purchase planning levels for holiday gift purchases.


The relationship between the price of the item and the planning level was also investigated. The mean item price for planned purchases ($36.57) was found to be higher than that of the unplanned purchases ($24.41) (p = .0124). It makes intuitive sense that the purchase of more expensive items would be better planned than inexpensive items.

Although the concern over price for gift items did not change over the planning levels, analysis of the data showed that the consumers in this sample reported more concern over price for normal gift purchases than for holiday gift purchases (p<.001). One possible explanation is that Christmas gift shopping may carry with it additional meaning because of the nature of the holiday festivities that surround it (cf. Caplow 1984), thereby decreasing other concerns. Another explanation might be that the Christmas gift shopping experience was more salient at this time than gift shopping done at other times in the year. Investigation of this same comparison could be made at a time other than Christmas to test any differences of these perceptions due to the immediacy of the event.

Shoppers were also asked how long they had been planning to purchase the gift item for the recipient. This was done to evaluate the time aspect of planning, in contrast to the measure assessing the extent of planning (i.e., to what level). Analysis of the data suggested that gift purchases planned at higher levels (e.g., brand) were planned further in advance than those at lower levels of planning (e.g., class) (p<.05).

No relationships between temporal variables and demographic variables (such as age, income, education, marital status, or size of household) were statistically significant, with one exception. Women were found to begin shopping earlier in the year than men, supporting the previous findings of Fischer and Arnold (1990).


The purpose of this study was to test several preliminary hypotheses concerning the effects and relationships of time (both physical and perceived) on Christmas gift-purchasing behavior, particularly the degree of planning. Data analysis suggests that felt time pressure increases as Christmas approaches, and even more for consumers with self-imposed deadlines. Comparable to the findings of Park et al. (1989) and Iyer (1989), increased time pressure was found to be more associated with planned purchases than with unplanned purchases (although the context in which the current findings are based is quite dissimilar).

Although no apparent economic trade-off was made between time and price, an argument for a trade-off between time and freedom of choice may be reasonable. Further investigation in this direction is encouraged. Pricing implications, such as the effects of holiday sales on shoppers' strategies for planning purchases, as well as their substitution behavior, are other areas that need study.

Interesting factors to be considered in future research include investigation into the consequences of changes in purchase planning levels due to a consumer's inability to locate a previously selected item. Further study on the effects of time and temporal variables on this process may lead to a better understanding of consumer decision processes. Other promising research could be conducted to examine the differences in planning levels across persons of differing temporal orientations (e.g., those described in Bergadaa 1990).

The success of this investigation also suggests that the environment surrounding holiday gift purchasing serves as an excellent context in which to study time pressures and purchase planning in consumer research.


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