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Associated Press photos
A shopper carries Macy’s bags outside the store in New York. Because many stores offer deep discounts before the holidays, many shoppers are buying “gifts” for themselves.

Some ‘gifts’ go straight home, thanks to deep discounts during holiday season

Shoppers looking for bargains approach the Old Navy store at Atlantic Terminal Mall in New York. Holiday discounts let shoppers buy for themselves with less guilt.

– Getting up early on Black Friday for a little shopping? Doing your part on Small Business Saturday and CyberMonday, too? It’s all in the name of gift-giving – or at least, the guise of it.

It seems a lot of consumers are using these sales and retail events to treat themselves to a new little something.

As a group, self-shoppers are growing, says Marshal Cohen, chief analyst of The NPD Group Inc., a consumer insight company. He puts the number at 20 percent, up from 5 percent in the early 2000s.

“I started tracking people shopping for themselves about 10 years ago. I was at a Black Friday in a Macy’s in a suburban location in Long Island,” he recalls. “This woman has one arm filled with a few things, maybe a dress and a few sweaters, and another with 12 items.”

Guess which hand had presents for her two sisters and a friend?

It’s a similar scene in Loft stores already this year, says Lori Leslie-Robbins, director of client experience for the retailer.

“For us, the telltale sign that someone is shopping for themselves is that our fitting rooms stay busy for the holidays. She’s trying clothes on, and you don’t need to do that for a gift.”

Leslie-Robbins overheard a conversation between a sales associate and customer in the dressing room that went something like this: The shopper in the dressing room was choosing between a dress and a tuxedo-jacket-and-denim-jeans combo to wear to a co-worker’s at-home holiday party.

When the associate asked if she’d also considered a hostess gift, she replied, “I’m not there yet.”

Because of the deep discounts, shoppers see this as an opportunity to replenish their own wardrobes and homes with less guilt than buying the new pair of jeans, for example, at full price, Cohen says. Those same shoppers might not feel that way about a gift for someone else.

He says the early-bird holiday shoppers especially are looking for the sales for themselves, while the transactions made closer to Christmas are more likely to be bona fide gifts.

He can also tell by what you’re buying: If it’s electronics or footwear, it’s probably for you; fragrance is a go-to gift item, with 20 percent of annual sales happening in the five days before Christmas, according to NPD.

Rachel DiCarlo is a fan of the one-for-me, one-for-you theory.

Jewelry and scarves, perfectly good gifts for others, are also the items she tends to buy for herself. Last year, she couldn’t resist the initial necklaces she was buying for so many others.

“I was getting the Ls, the Js, and I thought, ‘I should buy an R.’ ”