In this Motley Fool Answers podcast, cohosts Robert Brokamp and Alison Southwick have special guest Katherine Cullen of the National Retail Federation in the studio to talk about holiday spending and trends, from what shopping was like before anyone had heard the phrase "Cyber Monday" to the top items on wish lists this year, as well as the surprising preferences Gen Z has when it comes to retail.

But first, in the "What's Up, Bro?" segment, Brokamp drops his usual trio of topics of interest to investors: Just how good the past decade has been on the market, why it's so very hard to beat the market when it's in a bull run, and the four things that most 401(k) millionaires have in common.

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. To get started investing, check out our quick-start guide to investing in stocks. A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on Dec. 10, 2019.

Alison Southwick: This is Motley Fool Answers. I'm Alison Southwick and I'm joined, as always, by... Have I already called you Bobbert? Bobbert Brokamp? I have, haven't I?

Robert Brokamp: It's quite possible.

Southwick: Bertie. I called you Bertie Brokamp. Bobbert Brokamp.

Brokamp: You're going to run out of options when you just make up names. Like Santa Claus. Hey, I'm joined by Santa Claus. It doesn't work.

Southwick: I wish. Personal finance expert here at The Motley Fool. Bro, how are you doing?

Brokamp: Good. How are you?

Southwick: In this week's episode, we're joined by Katherine Cullen from the National Retail Federation. We're going to talk about holiday spending and trends. You can see how you stack up. Are you frugal? Thrifty? Maybe not. I don't know. All that and more on this week's episode of Motley Fool Answers.


Southwick: So, Bro, what's up?

Brokamp: Oh, I've got a few things for you.

Southwick: [Gasps] Do you have three?

Brokamp: I do have three. Let's start off with number one. The best decade ever!

Southwick: [Gasps] Are we in it?

Brokamp: Pretty much. I'd say it's pretty hard to argue that we're not. So the current bull market has been extraordinary. A while back, at some point last year, it reached the achievement of being the longest bull market, exceeding the bull market that went from 1990 to 2000, but it wasn't the highest-returning bull market until recently, at least according to The Leuthold Group, which is an investment research firm.

As reported by CNBC, they say that the current bull market, as of November, reached a total return -- and by this I mean the S&P 500 -- of 472%. That's price and dividends. That exceeds the previous record of the best bull market since World War II. That was 454% which went from 1949 to 1955. So it's pretty extraordinary.

Jim Paulsen, who is the chief investment strategist at The Leuthold Group, told CNBC, "The most outstanding feature of this cycle since 2008 is always going to be fear. I refer to this cycle, to some degree, as the bearish bull market," and I think that makes total sense, myself included. Throughout this period I've been thinking, "This can't keep on going." And he pointed out that a lot of people have been that way. They have kept dry powder on the side, which has been part of what keeps fueling this bull market, because more people are saying, "OK, I'm going to miss out," and they [put] some of the stuff they had aside into the market.

Now, I should say that not everyone agrees that this is the longest bull market because you define a bull market as basically a market that goes up until it hits a 20% decline. Now there have been two points over the past decade where the market did drop 20% on an intraday basis -- once in 2011 and once toward the end of [last] year -- but in both those instances, the market sort of ticked up right toward the end of the day so on a closing basis, the market was down by 19.5%.

Regardless of what kind of age you give to this bull market, it has been extraordinary for stocks and it's been extraordinary for the economy. This is December and I think we can pretty safely say we are not going to hit recession this month -- this month being the last of this decade -- so it will make this decade the first in the United States when we have not had a recession, at least going back to the 1850s, which is when they started keeping track of such things. So that's pretty good.

Southwick: It's pretty good.

Brokamp: That's pretty good! But let me point out item No. 2.

Southwick: Here we go. Here comes the awfulizer.

Brokamp: It's not awfulizing, but the second item is don't be surprised if you're lagging "the market," because we often use the S&P 500 as a proxy of the market. It's only 500 stocks among thousands in the U.S. and thousands and thousands and thousands in the world, and it's been particularly difficult over the last few years to beat the S&P 500.

Here's some research from a recent article in Bloomberg from a guy named John Authers. Of course, he's got to be a writer because his last name is "Authers." It included research from Andrew Lapthorne, the chief quantitative strategist at Société Générale.

He looked at 16,000 publicly traded stocks from across the world and what percentage of them have beaten the S&P 500 over a two-year basis? Barely 20%. The vast majority of stocks have underperformed the S&P 500. One of those reasons is because U.S. stocks have been beating international stocks. When you go back to the first decade of the 2000s, when international stocks did very well, throughout most of that period the majority of stocks beat the S&P 500 and at some point like 70-80% of stocks were beating them.

But then there's also the fact that large company stocks have been beating small company stocks and in the last five years, in particular, that has been the case. So if you are hearing all this great news about the stock market hitting all-time highs, but you feel like your portfolio hasn't kept up, you're in good company. Most portfolios have not been able to beat the S&P 500 over the last several years.

But don't worry. At some point in the future, small caps, international stocks, value stocks, or all of them all together will outperform the S&P 500 and you'll be glad that you owned them.

Southwick: Then are you saying it's easier to beat the market when the market is tanking?

Brokamp: Yes, and that was the case in the first decade of the 2000s. Over that first decade, actually, the S&P 500 lost money. So all you had to do was own cash and you outperformed the S&P 500. If you owned bonds you outperformed the S&P 500, so it was much easier.

So we come to item No. 3: As the market goes, so go retirement savings. Fidelity Investments recently released its quarterly report on the retirement accounts that are held at the firm and as of September 30 -- the end of the third quarter -- the number of workers with at least $1 million in their 401(k) hit an all-time high of 200,000 people and the number of people with $1 million in their IRAs hit an all-time high of 182,000 people.

What does it take to accumulate $1 million in your 401(k)? Well, a few years ago Fidelity published research that revealed the characteristics that these people have in common. Four key things.

  1. They start early. The typical 401(k) millionaire has been saving for more than 30 years.
  2. Save almost 20% of your income. So the average 401(k) millionaire contributes 14% to their 401(k) and they got a 5% match from their employers, so that's a combined rate of 19%. If you have not been able to save for 30 years, the best way to make up for that lost time is to contribute more. Save 30-50%. We've talked about that in previous episodes with the FIRE folks (Financial Independence, Retire Early). They found ways to do that. And good news for 2020. The contribution limits for 401(k)s are going up, so it will allow you to save more.
  3. Stock up on stocks. The typical seven-figure 401(k) allocates 75% to equities.
  4. Leave the money alone. The typical 401(k) millionaire does not take out a loan and does not take out money early. If you take out money early you often will pay a penalty and taxes. Surprisingly, 33% of people, when they leave their jobs, cash out their 401(k) instead of rolling it over to their new 401(k) or an IRA. That's a recipe for not having enough money for retirement.

And one other good factoid from the report is that workers are now contributing more to their 401(k)s than ever. The total contribution rate is 13.4% up from 11.8% a decade ago. That breaks down to 8.8% for themselves and a 4.6% match. That's good news. Still, I generally recommend that you save 15-20% if you want to be very sure that you're going to retire on time, if not a little bit early. That people are saving more is still good news.

So Alison, stock market, retirement account balances, and savings rates are all the things that are up.


Southwick: Oh, it's the holiday season. Bro, it's your favorite time of year.

Brokamp: Oh, it is.

Southwick: How much do you enjoy the shopping, holiday, and gift-giving aspect of the holidays?

Brokamp: I'll do that in reverse order. I love the gifts-giving part. I actually do like shopping because I like being out with people. I don't like spending money, though, so that's a bit of a conflict.

Southwick: But you do actually like physically going out to shop as opposed to online shopping?

Brokamp: Oh, yes. Black Friday and Thanksgiving evening shopping is definitely a part of our family tradition.

Southwick: Really?!

Brokamp: I know. You find that so surprising.

Southwick: I do!

Brokamp: Because I'm a bit of a cheapskate.

Southwick: Uh, frugal.

Brokamp: Yeah.

Southwick: Can we say frugal?

Brokamp: Not everyone in my family is as frugal as I am. Let's put it that way.

Southwick: Well, Katherine Cullen is joining us right now. She's been sitting here, the whole time, patiently waiting for me to stop being so surprised about your shopping habits. She is the senior director of industry and consumer insights for the National Retail Federation's research team. Thank you so much for joining us!

Katherine Cullen: Thank you for having me! And, hey, no judgment on your shopping style.

Brokamp: Thank you very much!

Southwick: On behalf of the National Retail Federation she would like to thank you for getting out there early and often.

Brokamp: That's pretty much how it goes. You're welcome, by the way. You're welcome.

Southwick: So every year the National Retail Federation puts out just a ton of fascinating research on our holiday spending habits, so we thought it would be fun to bring you here and have a visit from the spirits of holidays past, present, and future, and I know that Rick is very excited about providing me with some sound effects. Is that right, Rick?

Rick Engdahl: Uh...

Southwick: All you have to do is go [makes ghostly sound].

Engdahl: Definitely. I'm ready.

Southwick: OK, here we go. I'm trying to cue you. Cue Rick. Cue the ghost.

Engdahl: [Makes ghostly sound].

Southwick: Oh, look Bro. It's the Spirit of Holiday Spending Past. Where is it taking us? Why it's taking us back 15 years to 2004. Oh, wow, look. It's me. Such a bright, shiny thing in my 20s and I'm taking my annual day off where I go holiday shopping in Georgetown and get hot chocolate at Dean & DeLuca. It was only eight dollars. Why it's crazy. I'm literally walking around with a ton of bags. And this is literally what I used to do. It was amazing.

Cullen: That is amazing.

Brokamp: That is amazing. When I taught elementary school I was only five blocks from Dean & DeLuca.

Southwick: You know the Dean & DeLuca I'm talking about in Georgetown. I would treat myself, once a year, to a Dean & DeLuca hot chocolate.

Cullen: Those were so good.

Southwick: Was it good? All that mattered was that they were telling me it was eight dollars, or however ridiculously expensive it was, so it must have been good. Here we are in 2004 and most of us are doing our shopping the old-fashioned way, by walking around in the cold and hoping that the perfect gift will jump off the shelves at us.

So when the National Retail Federation looks at holiday spending, you look at a ton of different things and spending categories. Can you talk to us a little bit, first, about how you measure retail holiday spending? You break it up in categories and it's a cornucopia of data.

Cullen: Absolutely. The National Retail Federation has been conducting this survey with our partner Prosper [Insights] for over a decade. Around the time that you were shopping at Dean & DeLuca in 2004, we were running our survey. We survey every holiday in the U.S., which includes Valentine's Day all the way through the winter holidays which we're in now. We survey consumers across the country -- more than 7,000 consumers nationwide -- about their spending habits and celebration plans, so we have a really interesting view of how people's shopping habits have stayed the same or changed over the past decade or so.

As you noted, in 2004 you might have been doing a lot of shopping in person and maybe this year you're ordering online.

Southwick: Maybe not so much.

Cullen: Or maybe doing both, so it's been really interesting to watch how shopper behavior has transformed along with our survey.

Southwick: So in 2004, if I'm getting the numbers right, individuals in the U.S. spent a total of $792 on holiday spending -- $540 on gifts and $163 on non-gift stuff. Does that include food? Food is a big [expense] for us.

Cullen: We ask about food. Decorations. Cards. Christmas cards are a big thing as are Hanukkah cards. As well as treating yourself type items. Those are things you might pick up for yourself or your family. Maybe a new outfit. Family pajamas are a big thing right now, you may have noticed, at all the retailers you're looking at. There are all those kinds of items, out there, that people pick up during the holiday season and that's really what we're looking at. What are you spending on holiday items, which is a little different from our forecast for retail sales for the season, which looks at all spending during this time period. We're really looking at what's inspired by the holidays.

Southwick: So in 2004 it was a total of $792. Does that also include experiences? Like if parents tell the kids, "We're taking you to Disney World." Does it also include that kind of stuff?

Cullen: We don't ask specifically about that. We do look at how people spend on experiences in other studies we do more as a behavioral tactic. A lot of times when people purchase a gift of experience for their kids or significant other, they're doing other things along with that. Maybe you're buying a t-shirt for Disneyland or something like that.

We look at that type of buying around it, but gifts of experience, because it's based on how people are answering it, is they're thinking, "Hey, I'm going to buy a gift of experience. I'm spending X amount on the holidays." They'll include that in their answer, but it is a little subjective there.

Southwick: And as you pointed out, this was back before we did a lot of online shopping. In fact, it wouldn't be until 2005 that the term "Cyber Monday" was coined and the NRF is who coined it.

Cullen: I know, isn't that crazy? I didn't join NRF until just about three years ago. I sort of knew NRF had coined the term, but then I also grew up hearing Cyber Monday.

Southwick: It just always was, right?

Cullen: It's pretty amazing to work at the place that created it. I don't know if we're going to touch on this later, but we're thinking we need to come up with a new term because Thanksgiving shopping is now a five-day event. It's almost not even about Cyber Monday or Black Friday anymore. It's kind of about a full extravaganza. It's changing again, so we need a new term. You're welcome to offer suggestions.

Southwick: And the term "cyber" is like using an "e" in front of something. It's just how we shop. Why define it? Should we head to the present?

Brokamp: Yes, let's do that.

Southwick: That was a little better. That was better that time. Bro, the Ghost of the Present.

Brokamp: That was what I was going to say.

Engdahl: I don't get it, either. I'm just doing what Alison tells me.

Southwick: Whenever the spirits of holidays past, present, and future come they're like, "Oh, I'm a ghost. Ebenezer!" Think about things!

Engdahl: I'll just do what you tell me.

Southwick: Why are you not with me? Well, I asked for bells and I don't see any jingle bells in your hand, so that obviously didn't happen.

Brokamp: Maybe it will get added in post-production.

Southwick: Do it in post.

Brokamp: Probably not.

Engdahl: It's going to sound awesome in post.

Southwick: I can only hope. Bro, look. I'll just do it myself. [Makes ghostly sound]. Bro, look. We're being visited by the Ghost of Holiday Spending Present. So all told, on average, per person, the NRF estimates that we'll spend over $1,000 on the holidays for gifts, decorations, and other stuff, which is up over the previous year. Were you guys surprised by that or were you like, "Oh, no, this makes sense."

Cullen: Well, it makes sense because it's in line with what we're predicting for the overall holiday season and retail sales throughout the year, as well. Overall, for November and December we were expecting retail sales to grow between 3.8-4.2%. Now, obviously, that's a number that the economists come up with based on a lot of factors and this is based on a consumer survey, but it's always great when those two things are in line.

We were expecting people to say they would spend a little bit more. They're spending 4% more -- about $40 or so more than they spent last year. That's in line with what we are expecting based on consumer confidence and other factors. People are feeling good about themselves, so they're willing to spend just a little bit more. When you break it down, it's like one extra gift for co-workers. Maybe a little bit more on a gift for your parent or spouse or special person in your life. It averages out to a very tangible increase.

Brokamp: Can I ask a point of clarification? I have a family of five people. So when it's $1,000 per person, does that mean that on average, a five-person family is going to be spending $5,000 or is it I, as the person who spends the money, will be spending $1,000?

Cullen: It's per person for adults. If you're a two-adult household, I would guess about $2,000. I don't know if that's accurate. I know you're saving some money, here. You're looking for sales.

Brokamp: Well, it's definitely not going to be $5,000, that's for sure.

Cullen: And this is the national average. Higher-income households are at the upper end and lower-income households might be spending a little less, but it speaks to the fact that the holidays is a big time of year for people and they are spending a lot of money, so they oftentimes like to stretch that out, which is one reason we're noticing a longer holiday season than maybe we have in the past. People want to budget that. That's a lot to come out of one paycheck for folks.

We see people starting shopping in some cases before Halloween, which was crazy to me until I saw the sales starting before Halloween, and then going all the way up until the 24th or 25th and, of course, there's post-Christmas shopping, too.

Southwick: All right, Bro. Does this sound accurate to you? $659 for gifts for families, friends, and co-workers. How does that sound for the Brokamp family? Or for you personally?

Brokamp: Again, if it's per person, that's too high. If it's like doubling that for me and my wife, I guess that sounds about right.

Southwick: Numbers like these are always fascinating to me. So then $227 for non-gift holiday purchases, such as food or decorations. We eat a lot. And you guys aren't big eaters.

Brokamp: We're not, but we do like going out and we do like decorating.

Southwick: And then $162 on other non-gift purchases for yourself or your family. Do you buy yourself a little something when you go out?

Brokamp: I can't. Not really.

Southwick: You don't? I do. I'm so guilty.

Brokamp: I think my wife does, but I can't.

Cullen: And surprisingly, it does skew that women are more likely to, as well as younger shoppers. It's not everyone. You don't stop.

Southwick: So what are on people's wish lists this year? The No. 1 item -- this surprised me -- is gift cards.

Cullen: Yup.

Southwick: You just ask for a gift card. You just say, Robert Brokamp, I would like a gift card. That's the best way for you to tell me you care about me. Give me a gift card.

Brokamp: Yeah.

Cullen: They like to pick their own thing.

Brokamp: My experience with it is when my kids have gotten gift cards we put them in a drawer and we forget about them. That's why I don't like getting gift cards because I'm not good at using my gift cards.

Southwick: I still have Crate & Barrel gift cards left over from our wedding, which was over a decade ago.

Brokamp: Do stores factor this in?

Cullen: That's a good question. I'm not sure, but my husband keeps a tabulation.

Brokamp: See, look at that.

Cullen: I'm the data-driven person in our family, but he has a handle on how many gift cards we have and makes sure that we use them. He's like, "You have twenty cents left on this one at Starbucks." He can't forget that.

Brokamp: That's very admirable. I like it.

Southwick: The second most popular request is clothing or accessories. Yes, I'm fine with that. I'm wearing a Christmas sweatshirt right now. A holiday sweater.

Brokamp: Except when my wife asks for that, she asks for athletic clothes for Christmas. I am in no position to be choosing any sort of clothing for her. It's total hit or miss. It's probably even worse. I'm probably wrong 70% of the time.

Southwick: Which is perhaps why women are significantly more likely to ask for gift cards than men.

Brokamp: That could be it.

Southwick: The third most requested item on shoppers' wish lists this year is books and other media. Then electronics, home décor, jewelry, personal care, sporting goods.

Brokamp: Books and other media are ahead of electronics?

Southwick: Don't look at me.

Cullen: When we say books and other media is it also include video games...

Brokamp: Ah, OK. Now it becomes clearer.

Cullen: Streaming. Subscriptions. All of that. So yes, reading? So many people I know are reading their e-advice devices and stuff like that. I don't have data saying reading is up, but I think it's almost become a habit of resurgence.

Brokamp: I hope so.

Southwick: Do you want to guess how much expected spending will be on gift cards this season?

Brokamp: Again, is this like per person or total?

Southwick: Total. This is a number in the billions.

Brokamp: Oh, billions. That's my guess.

Cullen: It's 27 times that.

Southwick: Yes, $27.5 billion is going to be spent on gift cards this season. I was surprised by this, but the number one type of gift card is for restaurants. That surprised me.

Cullen: It didn't surprise me. In my family, gift cards are a big thing. We do a gift card exchange -- we don't base this survey on my family.

Southwick: We need to be on trend this year, and therefore, half of us will be giving gift cards.

Cullen: But if there's a Chipotle or Starbucks gift card in there, it is a hot commodity and it got stolen so many times during this gift exchange. I think when you break it down to actual brands or types of stores or types of restaurants, it starts to make more sense. Oh, yeah. I would love a Dunkin' gift card or whatever your restaurant or beverage place of choice is.

Southwick: And that is nice. We have talked on the show before about how being able to give experiences and not just items is a really great gift that keeps on giving and just memories. So giving the gift of going out to eat with a family member. I mean, how much would you pay for that, Bro?

Brokamp: $27.5 billion.

Cullen: But you probably spend about $50 on average, which is what it breaks down to and people buy about three. So when you put it in those terms, it's like, that all of a sudden makes sense how it gets to $27.5 billion.

Southwick: The last thing to look at is where we are planning to shop. Online? Department stores? Obviously, we don't do all of our shopping online, so if I'm reading this right, 56% of our shopping will be online.

Cullen: Correct.

Southwick: Which has surpassed department stores.

Cullen: Yes, but it's also levelled off in recent years. When we look at this historically, yes, there's a big increase in online and it grew steadily for several years. Now what's become clear and what really played out this past Thanksgiving is that people want choice.

To your point, they don't want to only shop online. They don't want to only shop in-store. They like to shop across those channels. I know omnichannel is a very tired term at this point. Again, if anyone has a new one... But it really is how people shop in reality. That's been really interesting to us.

And also department stores have a lot of holiday traditions that I think people resonate with, whether it's the decorations, or coming out there with your family. That's always a really strong one, too.

Southwick: I know when I look at these numbers, I'm always like, "Oh, I do all of my shopping online." Then when I think about it, I'm like, "No, actually I buy a bunch of food for Christmas dinner at Whole Foods and that's not online. Then I go to the outlet malls because I have to get an exploded plaid shirt for my husband because that's all he wants for Christmas."

So with all of these numbers -- including this actual sheer number of spending -- initially I'm always like, "Ugh, no, we don't spend nearly that much. No, we don't do that." But then when I actually stop to think about it, I'm like, "Oh, wait. I just got done spending $150 on holiday cards to send out to people." So yes, I forgot about that one. That adds up.

Cullen: Exactly. When you start breaking it out to your own personal experience, it's like, "Oh, yeah, that is how I behave. It turns out I'm not that different from the average American."

Southwick: Rick, do you want to do the last woo, or do you want me to do it? Oh, Bro, it looks like we're being visited by the final spirit. It's the Spirit of Holiday Shopping Future. I wonder what we'll learn.

Brokamp: Me, too.

Southwick: OK, good, thank you. What's fascinating about looking at the chart of spending from 2004 to now is that we started off with $700 something in 2004. And generally it goes up, except for there's a little dip in 2008 and 2009, but it really just dips down to 2004 levels, which is kind of fascinating. It's not like in 2008-2009 the spigot was totally turned off and no one spent anything, but you do expect to see a dip in spending in 2008-2009.

So where do you see holiday shopping going in the future? Is it going to continue to climb up as long as the economy is doing well? That seems like the easy answer.

Cullen: That is what we expect as long as the economy is doing well. Right now, consumer spending is the big powerhouse of the economy and the economy's growth that we would expect that to continue. Again, maybe it doesn't jump up $200 on average per person, but these incremental growths of 4% or about $50 per person for the holidays does seem to make sense when you put it in that context. So, yes, obviously we're surrounded by a lot of uncertainty right now when it comes to the economy, so things could slow down. That could pull back, but as of now we're on a good path.

Southwick: Do we know if people are spending more on the same number of presents and gifts, or are they just spending more on more people? I know some years there are more co-workers that get holiday gifts than others. You guys will be getting a holiday gift from me.

Cullen: It's funny you mention the co-workers because it's sort of both. People are spending more on their families and friends and that first circle, but then we noticed this year and last year -- well, last year was a little bit weird and I won't use that one-but people are intending to spend more on the other people in their larger groups. So co-worker gifts have grown. Gifts for your neighbors. Your teachers. That has also grown, as well. So it seems like when people feel good about their own situation, they want to spend a little bit more on special occasions and special people.

I have been really pushing that co-worker stat at work and really expecting a lot of gifts from people this year.

Southwick: A lot of mugs saying, "Best co-worker ever."

Cullen: I saw a co-worker gift guide that was suggesting you give someone a cashmere scarf. I was like, "Man!" I'd like to work there.

Southwick: You'd leave that on the printer for your co-workers to see. Why was last year a little weird?

Cullen: Well, we had a really strong October and then there was a lot that happened in the latter half of the season. We saw retail spending really pull back and fall behind most people's expectations. There was a lot of volatility in the stock market. There was the government shutdown. The tariffs and the trade war. And then there was some uncertainty with the Fed, as well. All of that came together and we saw slower retail sales in December than we were expecting.

Now, you might say some of those factors are still around right now, and that's certainly true, but there was a very specific mix of things that was impacting consumer spending in the last part of the holiday season. We're hoping that doesn't happen again. Right now people are optimistic about what they're going to spend. Thanksgiving appeared to be a really outstanding weekend for a number of reasons, both in terms of how many people shopped and what other groups, outside of ours, are saying they spent. It's really impressive, so it seems like people are fully embracing the holiday spirit this year.

Southwick: It feels like this year there was less -- maybe this is my personal life -- of the lineup outside of the stores to be able to be sure you're getting in at two in the morning for this doorbuster. Is that becoming less and less or is that just me perceiving it?

Cullen: I think some of that is personal perception. There are definitely some families where that is their tradition and some retailers that make a big deal out of it, but we're seeing a lot more, again, variety and choice. So if you want to shop online and not go stand out in the cold, you can do that. You can actually do that from your phone at Thanksgiving dinner when you don't want to listen to your family talk anymore or you just want to take a break and let the food digest.

So people can really shop any way they want to throughout the whole weekend. I think you even saw that with the way deals were staggered. There were some specific or time-sensitive deals, but overall the deals I was seeing, at least, were more all weekend long. Maybe there were some new ones specific to Black Friday or Cyber Monday, but really people had a little bit more leisure to shop.

Southwick: Is there anything we can glean from the young kids and how they're shopping that you think might become trends for the future as far as how they do it or what they're interested in? Or are the kids always going to be interested in Instagram? And TikTok? And I don't know.

Cullen: There's certainly that, but I actually think what's more interesting is not their digital behavior but actually we see younger consumers, particularly under the age of 25. I know we talk about millennials forever. I'm a millennial. I used to be in the focus. But in reality there's this new generation coming up, Gen Z, that is in college. The oldest are in college and entering the workforce now. They really like shopping in stores.

Southwick: Really?

Cullen: Yes, and this has been...

Brokamp: My kids, yes.

Cullen: ...across the board. And that doesn't mean they don't love digital shopping and they're not using a ton of digital platforms and social channels, but they like the experience of a store. Now the store does have to be entertaining and has to have what they're looking for. It might offer a specific experience or a retail party or something to set it apart, but not only do they say they're shopping in stores but they say they prefer to shop in the stores in a lot of cases.

Southwick: Where are they doing it? Like all the malls of my day shut down. I know you can't pick out your favorite child, but are there companies right now that you think are doing a really good job of creating an experience and you think that these are companies that maybe our listeners should keep an eye on as something that is ahead of the trend or doing something exciting in the space of retail?

Cullen: I have twins, so I literally can't have a favorite. I think the mix that really seems to be working and appealing to younger consumers -- and also a little bit to older consumers -- is a mix of really delivering on the basics. Do you make shopping easy and convenient regardless of channel? Do you tell people if they get to the store they know that the item they're looking for is in stock? I don't know if you've noticed this in apps that you use, but it will often tell you what aisle it's in, even.

And then from the store side, are you open to switching up the store experience? It's not just about making a sale. Is it maybe more about an easy place for people to pick up orders that they placed online and pick them up in the store? Are you allowing people to use the store to customize or personalize their product? Everyone talks about Nike. They're great at what they do, but they have a fantastic flagship in New York where it's all about experience. Yes, they sell things and they have a great, seamless selling environment but they'll switch it up.

Sometimes it's like a museum to athletes who have worn Nike products. There's an actual basketball court where you can book time and get coached, and also try out the shoes and see how it works for you. So it's really engaging, it's really interactive, and yes, it's about the product and the selling, but it's also about what your experience is and how you're using it.

There are other companies who are bringing digital into the store. I really like this product. Let me look on their social channels and see how people like me have used it or worn it and how it looks on them. Oh, maybe I'll share my own review right now, live, on the store in their social feed. So bringing those two worlds together is really appealing to younger customers.

I would watch companies doing those types of things. I think it's very exciting. You think shopping is shopping, but in reality it changes every day.

Southwick: Wonderful! Thank you so much for joining us on this journey through time. Thank you, Rick, for the whoo noises. I appreciate that. Do you mind sticking around? We're going to test your knowledge of Barbie and LEGOs. Are you ready?


Here we go. Also thank you to the NRF. We know what the top toys are for this holiday season and crazy enough -- I was actually really surprised about this because these are so timeless -- it's Barbies for girls and LEGOs for boys.

Cullen: It rarely changes but the products, themselves, have gotten updates in a lot of ways, and there are some newer trends on the list, too.

Southwick: Barbies and LEGOs. You can get a Supreme Court justice judge Barbie if you want.

Brokamp: I like that, actually.

Southwick: It's awesome. It's delightful. Well, let's see how much you guys know about LEGOs and Barbies. I've got some fun facts, here, that I took from Mental Floss from an article by Stacy Conrad and an article from Jesus Diaz over at Gizmodo. Are you ready?

Brokamp: Ready.

Southwick: Which was invented first, LEGOs or Barbie?

Cullen: I'd say Barbie.

Brokamp: I'll go with LEGOs.

Southwick: Rick, do want to guess?

Engdahl: Barbie.

Southwick: The company that would become LEGO was founded in 1932 by Ole Kirk Christiansen in Billund, Denmark and they made things like ironing boards and wood toys. The current LEGOs stud and tube coupling system was actually patented in 1958. Barbie made her public debut in 1959.

Brokamp: Oh, so close.

Southwick: It's her 60th birthday this year.

Brokamp: She looks great.

Southwick: Do you all know Barbie's full name?

Cullen: No.

Engdahl: Barbara.

Southwick: Shannon thinks she knows it.

Brokamp: We have a guest in the studio, here.

Southwick: Shannon Jones, special guest.

[Shannon]: It is Barbara Millicent Roberts.

Southwick: Yes, it is, Shannon. That's right. And she was named after Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler's daughter. So LEGO also has a fun story behind its name. The word LEGO was formed from the Danish words "Leg Godt," which means "play well." Later they realized that it was Latin for the phrase "I put together."

Brokamp: Well, how perfect.

Southwick: Or I gather and I collect. So they were like, "Well, that's wonderful." Isn't that great? It's fair to say that Barbie has had some body issues over the years. At one-sixth scale, her proportions have at times been as ridiculous as 38, 18 waist, and 28. So coming in at 5'9" how much do you think Barbie actually weighs?

Cullen: Oh, God.

Brokamp: Ninety-eight.

Southwick: Like if she was a real person.

Cullen: I'd say 110.

Southwick: [Gasps] You nailed it. So we got a clue from the 1965 Slumber Party Barbie. She came with her very own "How to Lose Weight" book.

Brokamp: Oh my goodness. Remember when you wound her arm and things shrunk?

Southwick: It included tips like, "Don't eat!" So she also came with a bathroom scale that put her, at 5'9" inches, weighing in at 110 pounds. You nailed it. One hundred ten pounds.

Brokamp: Ken, by the way, has a very interesting story. There's a whole article about it. Just look it up. Basically there's a debate about how anatomically correct he should be. Moving along...

Southwick: There are some vague parts.

Brokamp: Yes.

Southwick: The plural of LEGO. Is it LEGOs, as we say in the United States, or should it be LEGO, as they say in the U.K.? The plural of LEGO? If you have a whole bunch of LEGOs or LEGO, what's the correct way to say it?

Brokamp: I have always said LEGOs, so I'm going to go with that. LOGII? How's that?

Cullen: I like that. I'm going to say it's probably LEGO.

Engdahl: I think it depends if you're going with the Danish origin or the Latin origin.

Southwick: Very good.

Brokamp: Yes.

Southwick: This is a trick question because LEGO is actually an adjective.

Brokamp: What?

Southwick: What? So it should always be LEGO bricks, LEGO buildings, LEGO products. It's an adjective. What?

Cullen: I don't know how many kids are going to put LEGO bricks on my...

Southwick: LEGO bricks. Dear, mother! I would so cherish some LEGO bricks.

Brokamp: More stud and tube, please.

Southwick: How many LEGOs are there in the world? How many have been created since 1958?

Brokamp: 27.5 billion.

Cullen: I think that's a great number. It reminds me of like a business school case.

Engdahl: I think it's higher than that.

Southwick: Oh, it's definitely higher than that.

Cullen: I'm going to say 100 billion. Let's go there.

Southwick: 400 billion LEGOs have been produced since 1958. There are about 62 LEGO bricks per person [based on world population].

Cullen: And at least 30 are in your couch cushion.

Southwick: And somewhere you're about to step on some, too.

Brokamp: They'll be on the planet forever.

Southwick: Last question. LEGOs are built to very high and exacting standards. How many of every million LEGOs that come off the assembly line are defective and deemed not worthy for sale? So with how many out of every LEGO that they make is there something wrong?

Brokamp: 13%?

Cullen: I'm going to say like 2%.

Southwick: It's an actual number out of one million. It is 18.

Brokamp: What?

Southwick: 18, because as it turns out the machines that build the LEGOs are also built to very high standards and so they are very precise brick molding machines and there are very few bad pieces built. Only 18 out of every million produced.

Brokamp: That's good. Very impressive.

Cullen: Incredible.

Southwick: Katherine, thank you so much for joining us.

Cullen: Thank you for having me and for teaching me something about Barbie and LEGO. I will not view the toy shopping list the same way again.

Southwick: Right. This is so wonderful. Well, we do appreciate you crossing the river all the way from D.C. Where should people go if they want to do more comparisons when it comes to holiday shopping and just spending in general?

Cullen: They should go to We have a Winter Holidays page that has all this information and more. We'll be updating it throughout the season with numbers as well as fun facts, so check it out.

Southwick: Wonderful! That's the show. It's edited...

Brokamp: Woooo-ing-ly...

Southwick: That works. By Rick Engdahl. Our email is For Robert Brokamp I'm Alison Southwick. Stay Foolish, everybody!