While we await the National Retail Federation’s holiday retail forecast – which will come any day – Deloitte and Forrester are out with their predictions for holiday 2020 and year-end.
Big Four accounting firm Deloitte has a “glass half full” view, expecting a rise in holiday retail sales between 1% to 1.5%. On the other hand, market research firm Forrester looks and sees the glass half empty, with retail sales declining 2.5% for the full year.
Despite their differing forecasts, both firms are firm about one thing: This will be the year when online gift shopping explodes.
Online gifting business models
Online gifting companies generally follow one of two business models or a hybrid of both. One is based on the gift registry model, like Zola, Giftster or MyRegistry, where people can pre-select the gifts they want to receive.
These sites are popular for wedding and baby registries, but for the many other holiday and personal gifting occasions, they seem somewhat mercenary. The big advantage of the registry model is it reduces gift returns since people get what they want.
Then there is the gifting purchase model, like Gifts.com, which provide curated gift selections with guides for selecting gifts for different occasions and holidays. This model makes gifting easy for the gifter, but not necessarily for the recipient, especially if the gift isn’t to their liking.
With some one-third of all gift items returned, and returns running as high as 68% for gifted clothing items, returns become a headache for the recipient, not to mention the retailer. The recipient has to pack them up and ship them back and wait for the next delivery. And the retailer has to process two transactions.
Amazon, and many other major retailers, offer a hybrid model, including gift registries and wish lists, along with the option for gifting an item during checkout.
SmartGift didn’t follow any of these well-trodden – and highly inefficient – paths. It cracked the code in online gifting that solves some of the biggest problems inherent in these traditional business models. And it adds exciting new capabilities for retailers to deliver a more satisfying and personalized gifting experience for both gifters and giftees.
SmartGift’s big innovation is that it delivers gifts virtually to the recipient’s email inbox, smartphone, or any other digital platform. There they virtually unwrap it and can make an exchange right then, before the item is delivered, and follow by specifying exactly where they want to receive their item.
“SmartGift is essentially a tech platform which creates two streams: our DTC website where consumers can select gifts from our platform partners, and the other creates a new checkout flow for retailers’ websites that makes gifting easy and seamless,” Monika Kochhar, co-founder of SmartGift explains.
Its technology is so revolutionary that it was just granted a patent. And its list of participating partners include brands like 1-800-Flowers, Pandora, Kendra Scott, Movado, Theory, Tumi, Vineyard Vines, Eagle Creek, Timberland, JanSport, NBC Universal, Two Faced and Aveda.
Great for gifters and giftees, even better for retailers and brands
For gifters, SmartGift allows them to select a gift from the SmartGift website where its partner’s products are featured or use the SmartGift button at checkout from participating retailers’ websites. The gifter gets to send the gift instantly to the recipient’s phone, email or digital address, because in this day of digital communications, who knows people’s physical address anymore?
For the gift recipient, they get instant gratification of the gift selected for them and can instantly accept the chosen gift or exchange it for something else they want.
And for retailers and brands, it provides an enhanced gifting experience for their customers. “Gifting ultimately is human-to-human connection,” Kochhar says. “The whole transaction is based on emotional value. We realized the whole gifting continuum, which is always about the sender and the recipient, needed to be threaded together.”
In all of retail and marketing, gifting is unique because one transaction actually touches and engages two potential customers.
“Word-of-mouth is the strongest marketing and essentially gifting is the best word-of-mouth marketing. The gifter becomes a true brand ambassador,” Kochhar says.
“It’s not just me saying, ‘Go there and shop.’ It’s me spending my money to personally introduce you to the brand. And if that brand gives both the gifter and giftee a beautiful, delightful customer experience, its power to convert and increase purchase frequency goes to a whole new level for two customers,” she continues.
And through the SmartGift platform, retailers gain detailed knowledge not just about the person who purchases a gift, but about the individual who receives it, valuable data that most retailers are completely missing.
How 1-800-Flowers elevates the gifting experience
The 1-800-Flowers and its family of brands caught on early to the power of the SmartGift platform. As a group of companies completely embedded into the gifting market, including Harry & David, Moose Munch, The Popcorn Factory, Wolferman’s, Cheryl’s Cookies and others, they realized SmartGift brought a new experiential dimension that enhanced its already well-established gift business.
For example, 1-800-Flowers relies on local florists to fulfill orders, and sometimes the arrangements received don’t live up to the picture of the flowers ordered. SmartGift helps the company complete the feedback loop with a QR code that allows the recipient to send back their reaction in real time. So both the gifter and the giftee can share the experience together.
And SmartGift is further enhancing the 1-800-Flowers’ gifting experience by letting customers add some of NBC Universal’s most popular films to their present. The film becomes part of the recipient’s personal film library in the free Movies Anywhere app.
“This exciting collaboration with Universal, together with the unique delivery experience designed by SmartGift, provides a fantastic new way for customers to engage with our brand and connect with each other,” said 1-800-Flowers president Amit Shah in a statement. More such experiential add-ons are planned for the company’s other brands.
“Our bundling module lets retailers create an array of different gift packages, like this with flowers and movies,” Kochhar shares. “We’re looking at all kinds of different vertical opportunities that bring a holistic value, like jewelry and flowers, or delivering champagne with a jewelry gift. It’s very easy for us to do and the opportunities are endless.”
Pandora signs on
With the pandemic and people’s rapid shift to online ordering for all kinds of purchases, including gifts, SmartGift’s enjoyed strong tailwinds to sign up new retailers to its platform.
Turning the switch on with SmartGift is fast, with the typical on-boarding process taking between two-to-three weeks, but they have been able to bring retailers online in as little as five days.
Such speedy on-boarding allowed Pandora to very quickly add SmartGift to its website in April when its stores were closed and just three weeks before Mother’s Day, one of its prime selling holidays.
“We obviously like to see people self-purchase Pandora jewelry, but at the end of the day, we are a gifting brand,” shares Sid Keswani, president of Pandora North America. “We launched SmartGift services right before Mother’s Day and it was a huge part of our business this year. I think it will be a service that will be important for next year’s Valentine’s Day, and most especially this holiday season.”
Kewsani confirms that SmartGift was very easy to implement and integrate into its system. And it delivers enhanced capabilities so that the gift recipient gets exactly what she wants.
“We always start everything from a customer viewpoint. And literally you can pick and choose a gift and send it with SmartGift in under ten minutes. It keeps it simple,” he says and adds, “It lets someone like me, who may not know what size ring my mother wears or what charm she might like, to get exactly what she wants.”
He goes on to say that while Pandora gift cards have always been an important offering for its retail stores, SmartGift is not cannibalizing its gift card business, but a great add on to it.
Online gifting to get a big boost holiday 2020
Both Keswani and Kochhar expect online gifting to get a big lift this holiday season. And not just because people may be reluctant to shop in stores, but because people may not feel comfortable celebrating together. So they will turn to giving more gifts to make that emotional connection and stay connected.
“Ever since the pandemic started, we are seeing a deluge of ‘Thank You,’ ‘I Care,’ or what we call gratitude gifts. Those have increased by nearly 40% because people want to show appreciation and caring,” Kochhar says.
She goes on to share that this past July, which is a month with no peak gifting holiday or occasion, SmartGift saw gratitude and “Just Because” gift purchases increase from 12% relative share last year to 21% this year. In addition, the average order value for those gifts increased as well.
And for this holiday season, thanks to SmartGift’s instant gratification through virtual unwrapping, its online gifting partners can process and deliver gifts on Christmas Day, not cut off gifting orders days before.
Another big gifting opportunity that the pandemic has exposed is corporate gifting, since people aren’t in the office or meeting with clients.
“We just released our corporate gifting platform this year, so companies can send their employees gifts to keep morale up and keep them motivated. And unlike other corporate gifts, the employees can choose what they want,” Kochhar says.
In the same way, SmartGift allows corporate gift departments to send more meaningful gifts to clients and partners to keep relationships strong with personalized, self-selected gift items.
In closing, Kochhar sees tremendous opportunities for her company to transform the entire online gifting business. It is great for retailers who can add an exciting new dimension to serve their gifting customers.
Retailers also don’t have to worry about returns, which is especially problematic in the first quarter when holiday gift returns can be overwhelming.
And most especially for retailers on the platform, they gain access to previously invisible data about customers’ gifting patterns, behaviors and preferences. “We can really hone in on the granular level to help our platform partners get their marketing messaging and gifting strategies right, “she says.
“From a retail perspective, we’re seeing so many brands, including retailers overseas, wanting to get a complete gifting strategy online. SmartGift gives them that,” she concludes.