The Gift Of Better Giving

Giving good gifts is hard work. It’s also expensive.

According to Deloitte’s 2017 holiday spending survey, the average American consumer will spend $1,226 over the holiday shopping season, approximately $430 of which will be spent on around 14 gifts. That is, unless that consumer happens to be a member of a household bringing in more than $100,000 per year — in which case, all of those figures roughly double.

While the predictions vary some — NerdWallet’s annual holiday spending report pegs average gifting for 2017 at $660 per person, on average — the takeaway is the same. With the holiday season comes a massive crush of shoppers on a mission to buy for others, and an overwhelming majority (85 percent) of Americans plan to purchase gifts for friends and loved ones between now and the end of 2017.

That 85 percent will not only spend a copious amount of treasure — around $1 trillion, in fact. If 2016 is any guide to what 2017’s spending looks like, they will also expend a fairly large amount of time doing it.

Whether they’re shopping online or in-store, shoppers spent about six hours on the hunt for those special, personalized gifts. Since 85 percent of American adults go Christmas shopping, that nets out to approximately 1.3 billion hours, according to NerdWallet. That also means Americans literally cram about 150,000 years’ worth of shopping for other people into the time period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

That’s because, with some quick back-of-the-envelope math, 1.3 billion hours equates to slightly fewer than 150,000 years.

One might like to assume that with that much time and that many dollars, the Americans gift-giving game is on point. Sadly, though, the data that exists on this topic more strongly indicates Americans try really hard and often miss the mark. Common gift-giving mistakes include giving gifts that are too focused on the wow factor and not practical enough; giving gifts that are too practical (vacuum cleaners seem to lead this category), giving gifts that are too personal (co-workers report this problem) and giving gifts that aren’t personal enough (your mother reports this problem).

So, consumers are advised to give heartfelt gifts that are not too personal, too practical or overly flashy.

In case one was trying to comfort him or herself with the knowledge that it’s the thought that counts, we have bad news on that front. According to researchers at Harvard and Yale, the thought does count, but the gift counts more. However many times people tell you they don’t care what you got them, research indicates people vastly prefer getting things they want, no matter how nice the thought behind the thing they didn’t want.

If one is getting the idea he should just save himself the time and invest heavily in gift cards this holiday season, well, we have more bad news. Approximately $1 billion in gift cards given at the holidays each year go unspent because consumers tend to forget they have them — as such, those gift cards often end up living in drawers.

Like we said, gift giving is hard.

But, the good news about living in 2017 is that the inherent hill over which consumers will spend the next six weeks trying to get — trying to match the right gift to the just right getter — has not gone unnoticed by ecosystem members and innovators.

In fact, they, like most holiday shoppers, had the thought that “there must be a better way to get Dad something.” But, unlike the rest of us, they did not give up and buy him a tie. They built better ways to make sure no one ever got a tie for Christmas again.

So, who makes the highlight reel?

Pinterest Brings Lots Of Players To The Gifting Party

Pinterest has been thought of as social media’s biggest case of missed — or at least under-utilized — potential. A visually based site built around consumers creating complex collages of products and places they love? It seems like the most natural fit to position itself as a focus for social commerce and marketing.

But, despite a variety of efforts to integrate commerce into the platform over the last several years, Pinterest has had a hard time grounding its offering or moving its healthy and highly engaged user base toward productive commerce activities. Facebook dominates the “last clicked” social media platform with 48 percent of users noting they’d made their last purchase via the site. Pinterest, by comparison, accounts for about 2 percent of that market, according to an OpenInfluence study.

All that said, this Christmas’ new Secret Santa tool seems to have some potential baked in, as it comes with out-of-the-box support from some very name-brand players like Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, Coca-Cola, CVS and Universal Pictures.

Secret Santa works by leveraging the Pinterest application program interface (API) to create customized idea boards for friends and family based on the types of things they are pinning themselves. Serving as an opportunity to keep a running tab on the things their loved ones actually like, the board gives consumers an easy way to click through and purchase as they discover the gifting items they want to buy.

But, what if the shopper’s friends and family aren’t on Pinterest? Not a problem: Users can create boards for persona types — travelers, pet lovers, etc. — to get an idea of what people with similar interests are coveting this holiday shopping season.

“Holiday shoppers already use Pinterest for gifting inspiration and Pinterest Secret Santa is a new way to find fun ideas for the holidays,” said Joe Ebert, vice president of digital marketing for Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

Loop Commerce Makes It Easy To Get The Gift Right, Down To The Find Detail

Let’s say the customer has found the just right gift — the perfect jacket for the person she wants to shower with holiday splendor. In fact, that consumer is ready to click “buy.”

Then it occurs to her she has no idea what the recipient’s size actually is, if he would prefer the jacket in black or white, his street address or if he even has a street address or a P.O. box. A lot of details quickly start stacking up, and that great digital gift idea becomes rapidly too complex to follow through.

That is where Loop Commerce has sought to simplify the equation.

“Gifting is a highly social engagement between people,” said Roy Erez, founder and CEO of Loop Commerce, in an interview with PYMNTS. “It’s about feeling good about what you’re buying; it’s about feeling great about what you’re receiving.”

Instead of having shoppers arm themselves with an arsenal of personal data about the intended recipient, Loop Commerce instead gives the shopper a chance to select an item and chose to send it as a gift — and even allows gift buyers to send items without having to select a given size, color or fill in shipping unknown shipping data might that might gum up either the sending process. The receiver gets the gift via email on the selected gifting occasion. The user can choose to accept it as it, customize it to his liking or even exchange it wholesale for store credit or a different item entirely. The recipient finishes filling out any necessary data, and the gift — the right gift — goes out to the customer.

The Loop experience is now patented and, via a pair-up with Gap’s leisure brand Athleta, is even beginning to make inroads into physical retail stores with its GiftNow card.

“We decided early on to take the extremes of a gift card and give people the ability to buy whatever they want to buy,” said Erez, “Gift cards grew to $140 billion as a solution for gifting anxiety and last-minute [purchases]. What we wanted to do at Loop was to give the exact same flexibility with the thoughtfulness of gifting.”

Amazon Patents Gift Rules

The Amazon gift card is surely a staple of the unsure gift giver’s lineup as there is something to be said for giving someone a pass to the everything store of the internet and letting her work it out for herself.

But Amazon wants to do better, and it now owns that patent on a new type of gift card alternative that’s a bit more personal. In fact, the card allows the gift-giver to essentially program rules into the card, guidelines for gifts like price range or object type.

While the “rules” concept may seem a bit rigid for something that is supposed to be fun — i.e. a gift  it does have the benefit of allowing a giver to buy his friend or loved one a certain “type” of thing for which recipients were asking while also allowing them to select the exact specs they need.

The patent allows shoppers to define many criteria. So, for example, someone trying to buy her friend a flatscreen TV might be unsure of the size, model or brand the recipient might want. The buyer could instead define an item type (TV) and a price range, then allow the recipient to choose the size and brand she prefers.

U.S. patent 9,811,833 allows the gift-giver to stipulate exceptions to the gift rules, too. The system is set up to allow the recipient to go past the suggest price range, as he or she can elect — like with a typical gift card — to pay the balance themselves.

Sadly, though Amazon received the patent for this tech back in November, it doesn’t seem to be rolling out in time for the 2017 holiday shopping season.

But, there are many options, and though giving just the right gift will never be easy, it seems at least on the road to being a less Sisyphean ordeal.

Happy shopping.