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The Pandemic's Effect on Gift Giving: Is Your E-Commerce Business Ready?

By Mike Clem
Oct 23, 2020 4:30 AM PT
e-commerce advice gift giving during pandemic

For all the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our online shopping behavior in 2020, add to the list: holiday gift giving.

This year, far fewer gifts will be exchanged in person as many of us cancel our normal family travel during the holiday season. Airlines are predicting less than 50 percent of normal holiday travelers, as many of us are choosing to stay home out of caution, as well as cities and states imposing quarantine rules on out-of-towners.

As e-commerce retailers, we should prepare for a surge in online gift purchases and also an increase in gifts delivered directly to the recipient. Here are ten ideas that e-tailers can use to rethink the gift-giving experience this holiday season.

1. Be prepared earlier than normal for gift shoppers (like October).
Many customers will be shopping early this year, especially with Amazon Prime Day being mid-October and many other retailers kicking off early holiday marketing in response. Expect early, intense competition and a common refrain of "beat the rush" sort of messaging.

2. Encourage customers to shop early.
If they aren't already, then you should tell them to. The surge in online shopping will likely put tremendous strain on our own distribution centers and shipping carriers, like FedEx, UPS, USPS, etc. Customers need to understand that shipping times may be lengthened this year, and they should not assume or wait until the last minute.

3. Focus customers on what is in stock.
As we all continue to experience inventory limitations and supply chain challenges, make sure you are encouraging customers toward items that are confidently in stock. De-emphasize special order items and items likely to stock out. There will not be as many chances for heroics this year.

4. Encourage electronic gift cards.
Gift cards are a convenient and predictable choice for customers. They bypass the shipping & inventory challenges, and they probably save you labor cost as you staff for the holidays. Review your online experience - are they obvious to find & easy to order? Will you offer an incentive to purchase gift cards, like a bonus amount?

5. Review your promotional calendar.
Especially promotions running in December, will you be able to confidently fulfill those orders? If you normally do a campaign for "still time to get it delivered by Christmas" -- will that even work this year?

6. Help protect the secret.
If customers are delivering straight to the recipient this year, help them understand the experience. Will there be prices on the packing slip? What emails are sent? Will the outside of the box give away the contents? Can the customer indicate it is a gift order and suppress these things?

7. Encourage hold-at-locations.
An interesting solution for keeping gifts secret -- if your website already offers "hold at locations" (like Kroger, Walgreens, etc.), encourage customers to send to a nearby location to the recipient instead of showing up at their house and ruining the surprise.

8. Be prepared to adjust shipping promises.
Most retailers are normally very bold with delivery promises, but consider softening that language as needed. Decide if you need to adjust or pad the promises as the season goes on. Maybe promise ranges instead of specific dates. Monitor your shipping reports closely and adjust promises if carriers are missing consistently.

9. Adjust your fraud rules.
Remember that gift orders often have the same fingerprint as fraud orders (gift cards, expedited shipping, mismatched shipping & billing address, etc.). Make sure your systems and processes are prepared to differentiate and move good orders through quickly.

10. Consider value-added services.
Some retailers are choosing to offer extra services like gift messaging, gift wrapping, handwritten cards, etc. It's a great way to add real value this year and differentiate yourself if you are able to commit to the idea.

Hopefully these tips are useful to spark ideas for the gift-giving experience on your website. Don't forget to also go through your web experience personally. Place an order and experience it end-to-end, just as a customer would. That is always the best way to understand and fine-tune the nuance of your own business.

I wish you great success in your holiday sales this year, and I also wish you a great holiday season with your loved ones, no matter how disrupted we all are this year.

Mike Clem is Chief Digital Officer and Senior Vice President of E-Commerce at Sweetwater, where he leads the company's web team and digital marketing strategy. Since joining the company in 2003, he has played a key role in driving Sweetwater's online growth and ensuring that customers have a great experience on the website, which is one of the first and largest in the music industry. Mike a lifelong musician and a graduate of Purdue University.

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