Digital Gifting: Lessons Learned During the 2020 Holidays

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This past winter’s holiday shopping season was unlike any other. The digital gifting patterns related to the pandemic started to emerge in the spring and accelerated during the holidays. Plus, the uncommon circumstances consumers found themselves in led to new behaviors and needs that will undoubtedly influence the way retailers will approach the 2021 holidays. We saw retailers’ gifting patterns change within GiftNow’s business and also broadly across the entire industry.

Despite the foot traffic challenges most brick-and-mortar retailers experienced, The National Retail Federation found that holiday retail sales grew a surprising 8.3% compared to last year while online and other non-store sales grew nearly 24%. No matter the hurdles placed in front of them, many retailers and consumers are trying to create digital gifting experiences that enable people to create strong connections.

Retailers: Spring Actions Paid Off Over Holidays

Many retailers took the initiative to improve their online gifting back in the spring, when states enforced strict measures to help curb the spread of COVID-19, forcing stores to close or reduce their hours or the number of customers allowed in. Shoppers who wanted to purchase gifts or create a gifting experience for their loved ones or friends had to find alternatives.

Retailers who were aware of this gap in the gifting experience increased their focus on enabling digital gifting online. They tweaked their ecommerce operations and gifting strategies in more ways than one, from messaging to gifting centers to merchandise suggestions. This investment paid off.

A great example is the largest equestrian omnichannel retailer in the country, Dover Saddlery. It tuned its online gifting strategy and operations ahead of Mother’s Day and saw a 10% boost in sales and a 47% increase in online gifting compared to 2019. Dover’s continued focus and investment in its online gifting also paid off during the holidays as it continued to experience impressive online sales results.

Enabling Consumers to Stay Connected

If consumers cannot elicit a positive response through traditional acts of gifting, they want to lean on technology to do it for them, especially around the holiday season. Astute retailers realized families were putting travel plans on hold for Thanksgiving and the holidays.

To address this, retailers can give customers digital tools to make online gift shopping a stress-free experience. This is indicative of the importance of ensuring customers receive unique gift experiences or create them for others year round, helping improve the bottom line. Digital gifting should not be an on/off switch to maximize holiday shopping opportunities but a strategic part of a retailer’s overall ecommerce strategy.

A Commitment to Make the Gifting Journey Easier

This past holiday season also helped prove why it’s important to create a unique shopping journey for every gift seeker, whether for themselves or others. It requires uncomplicating a complex gifting ecosystem. A successful gifting journey requires dedicated messaging that aids the gift shopper’s journey. Retailers can find success by applying new messaging strategies around a larger array of gifting themes and objectives to meet consumers’ needs.

We have yet to determine what the “new normal” will be. However, the degree of transformation we have seen in retail through new strategies and applications of digital gifting in the last 12 months is comparable to what we might see over a span of many years. Retailers that are positioned to win the digital gifting game and delight their customers can capitalize on this growing trend now and in years to come.

Jennifer Muller is CMO of GiftNow