Holiday shoppers ditch tablets, want phones, CNET survey uncovers

CNET's annual shopping study reveals how 2017 has changed what you buy (headphones!) and how you buy it, plus how demographic changes are reshaping holiday shopping norms.

Lindsey Turrentine EVP, Content and Audience
Lindsey Turrentine is executive vice president for content and audience. She has helped shape digital media since digital media was born.
Lindsey Turrentine
4 min read
iPad and Kindle Fire
CBS Interactive

Call 2017 the year no one invited tablets to the holiday party.

It's a holiday tradition: Every year, we ask thousands of CNET readers about what you want to receive, how you'll be shopping and for what. This year, 1,825 Americans took the CNET Holiday Shopping Survey during the second week of September, and guess what? You're radically changing what you're shopping for and how.

This is the first year since 2013 that survey respondents put tablets behind smartphones on your wish lists. Tablets are still popular -- 32 percent of you want them -- but this year, 35 percent of you want a phone. Next on your lists were wireless headphones, also at 32 percent, and smart home tech at 31 percent. Millennials have a stronger preference for cord-free tech and don't care much about tablets at all. Forty-three percent want smartphones, just ahead of wireless headphones at 41 percent and smartwatches at 33 percent.

To conduct the survey, we asked a wide variety of questions between Sept. 5 and Sept. 11, 2017 on CNET.com. When we crunched the numbers, we looked at overall responses and then pulled out answers from US millennials, an interesting group because each year they earn more money, and as the largest American generation ages, the way they shop changes.

Best headphones

You'll spoil yourselves…

This year, the majority of you (62 percent) will buy yourselves gifts, most of you citing good deals and sales. And if you're a millennial, 68 percent of you plan to buy yourself something this year.

But you're not selfish. Given the choice, 39 percent of our respondents would choose world peace over their most-wanted tech gift, and 28 percent would choose universal healthcare. (Still, one in five survey takers admitted you'd would rather take the tech.) And if you're younger? You're less likely to spend the holidays online. Twenty-seven percent of respondents are looking forward to less screen time over the holidays, but a whopping 42 percent of millennial CNET holiday shoppers want to spend less time online.

'Tis the year to give audio and subscriptions


This year's typical shopping list looks different from a typical wish list, and that makes sense. People plan to give tech gifts that are less expensive and typically help upgrade a loved one's life. Headphones are most popular, possibly because so many new wireless models have entered the market this year. Twenty-two percent of you plan to give them as gifts, followed by tablets (21 percent), wearable fitness devices like Fitbits (18 percent), smart home tech (18 percent) and phones (also 18 percent).

Quite possibly the most interesting difference between millennial shoppers and the larger population is how willing millennials are to gift subscriptions. Overall, 31 percent plan to give subscriptions to a service this year (Amazon Prime subscriptions count for 49 percent of these gifts), but 37 percent of millennials intend to give them.

You're planning on a long shopping season

This year, you're treating the most famous shopping days as starting points but not as your last shopping stop. Nine in 10 of you (and 95 percent of millennials) plan to at least browse deals on Cyber Monday , and 74 percent plan to purchase at least one gift then, but only 28 percent plan to do most gift shopping on Cyber Monday. Many of you (77 percent) told us you planned to use the days between Black Friday and Cyber Monday to study up on prices and discounts.

Because Christmas falls on a Monday this year, many of you may be planning to string along the season once you know exactly how much deals should cost. Nearly one-third of millennials plan to take longer to buy gifts this year, but the millennial love of Black Friday surprised us. While only 69 percent of overall survey takers planned to browse then, 79 percent of millennials chose Black Friday to research deals.

When you buy, you buy online

Gone are the days of long store lines and while most of you shop online, you're still more comfortable buying on computers than on phones. Nearly 70 percent of CNET holiday shoppers plan to purchase most of their holiday gifts online, but while 57 percent of you will research gifts on your phone (and 76 percent of millennials), 77 percent of you, regardless of age, plan to pay for those gifts using a desktop.

With the shopping season well underway, there are just a few weeks left to see which of these shopping trends bear out and whether retailers -- and electronics manufacturers -- benefit from the near-total shift to online shopping. If you're not ready to shop on Cyber Monday, use the day to research the lowest prices, then keep an eye out for online deals during the month of December.