Your new ecommerce marketing strategy – think like a gift giver

4 May, 2015

Flickr Image Courtesy Jd Hancock

I bought a bunch of birthday gifts for my sister a few days back (yes, I know, I am a great brother).

It’s a challenging thing to do – to buy a gift for someone – but if you put some effort into it, and nail it, the giftee sends you a whole stack of love right back.

The whole process made me think that online retailers need to think more like a gift giver sometimes.

Not in the way that a gift giver buys a bunch of stuff for someone. No, I get that we all need to make money when we sell our products online.

I’m not talking about the candles, the cake, or the contrived kid-delighting song perpetuated well into adulthood by that annoying uncle that needs to continually reassert his stranglehold on the much coveted ‘hip-hip’ role of the family celebration run sheet.

I do have a point.

There’s 3 key aspects of gift giving that need to form the basis of your ecommerce strategy. I’ll explain why by the end of the article. Promise.

Stick with me at this analogy party.

I’m about to unwrap the goodies.

Why do online retailers need to start thinking like a gift giver?

Sorry, clickbait subheading I know. That’s not our jam. So here’s the answer straight up:

We need to do better at working out exactly what each customers wants.

When I set out to buy my sister Ali a gift, I wanted to make her happy, in a similar way that any good retailer wants to delight their customer.

The whole idea of a gift is to give something that shows how much you care for that person.

If you give a thoughtful gift, you’re showing the giftee that you understand them.

You’ve put some effort into personally finding and suggesting something that they’ll enjoy, something that will improve their life.

If we can do that, as online retailers, we can develop rabidly loyal repeat customers.

If you were to give the same gift to another friend, there’s a good chance it would turn into a failure. The best gifts mean something to the giftee personally. When you get it right, it’s a glorious thing.

The gift giver feels great, and the giftee feels even better.

What my sister’s birthday taught me about ecommerce

Right, I’m sure you’re all just screaming at your screen for me to tell you what amazing gifts I bought for Ali.

Here’s a pic of her and I. Sadly I don’t have a snap from her birthday. But we were both at about this level of happiness after the gift-giving/gift-opening experience.

My Sister Ali And I

Alas, it’s was no ground breaking scavenger hunt leading to a hidden envelope with a customised choose-your-own-adventure experience.

The gifts weren’t all that jaw-dropping.

There wasn’t even any ice cream (or beanie-wearing).

But, Ali really enjoyed herself. And so did I.

Gift #1. New Tennis Racquet

Flickr Image Courtesy Guian Bolisay

Explainer: Ali used to take lessons with a bunch of friends, but when she moved to London, well, the weather, and her friends were several thousand kilometres too far away to make practice. Now she’s back, she’s keen to keep fit and catch up with her buddies. So I bought her a new racquet to give her that nudge.

Result: Success. She probably wouldn’t have bought herself a new one, it was low priority (she hadn’t even thought about starting lessons back up). But now, enthusiasm is renewed. She loved it, and she has already asked me to schedule in a match with her.

Ecommerce Lesson: My inside info – it paid off. I had myself a delighted gift-recipient customer. I suggested something Ali would not have purchased herself, but I knew she would probably like it with my thoughtful-brother-inside-information-analysis technique.

If we want to create the best possible customer experience, we have to do everything in our power to work out what each individual might want and proactively suggest it.

Gift #2. Moleskine Notebooks

Flickr Image Courtesy Davidmaitland

Explainer: As any late twenties professional female will tell you, quality stationary is a thing of almost unrivalled longing. Ali belongs to the club that believe a notebook that you love can wash away the stress of the workday the very moment the pen hits the page.

So I knew she’d love a Moleskine. Even better, she was just about to start a new job, the perfect time for some new writing swag. I chose a nice charcoal colour – she’s not so into the bright and garish hues.

Result: Another win. Evidently Ali hadn’t even got around to thinking about prep for her new job. She loved the colour, and the iconic brand.

Ecommerce Lesson: Simple gift, but the contextual knowledge I had made it mean more than the $20 I paid for it.

It’s not enough just to understand what product your customer wants, you need to personalise everything possible, right down to the colour, size and type.

Gift #3. Assorted Chocolates

Chocolate Gift

Explainer: Okay, so this one is the equivalent of the ‘best Dad ever’ Father’s Day mug. It sounds like the laziest phone-it-in gift ever. Everyone loves chocolate (lactose intolerant folks – I know you still love it). Ali is more than a casual indulger. She has an almost spiritual affinity.

While visiting my parent’s house recently, we were reminiscing about the quest to find the everchanging hiding spot of the household chocolate secret stash.

Of course, chocolate is a lock. But a mere Cherry Ripe and a Mars Bar would not do. Instead, I set out on a little Willy Wonka mission to a local chocolatier and selected eight different exotically flavoured individual truffles.

From the ‘Champagne Swirl’, to the ‘Caramel Cocount Fudge’, each flavour carried a different story, demonstrating my understanding of our shared chocolate experiences (well, mainly my experience of watching her refine her chocolate expertise over many fruitful years).

Result: Even though this gift might have been the cheapest (and the most fleeting), it was the undisputed winner, gobbled up gleefully in no time. I rang her the next day, and found no surprise in learning of the empty box.

Lesson: Even the simplest, most basic products and services need the upmost thought and care.

If you can craft an experience around your product with a story that resonates with your audience, you can generate a joy and passion that money can’t buy.

The ecommerce marketing mindset needs to shift

When you’re selling online, things can get a little ‘transactional’.

Sometimes it feels like there’s no love.

It’s all ‘click-click-click’, ‘buy-buy-buy’, ‘enter your details’ here, ‘sign up for discounts’ there.

Doesn’t it seem a little cold?

As we discussed in April’s Ecommerce Roundup, online stores are often more like a waiter than a customer service rep.

Your Website Is A Salesperson Not A Waiter

When you strip it all down, an overwhelming number of ecommerce sites are still a glorified digital catalogue, set up to sell as much stuff as possible.

You might read that last sentence and shout ‘of course it’s set up to sell as much as possible – we’re in business, not charity’.

You’re right. We all need to make money.

But the best way to do that is to develop a continually growing group of loyal repeat customers.

We need to set up our online stores not to sell as much as possible, but instead to create the best possible customer experience.

Brick and mortar retailers get it.

The best of them carefully create a service environment designed to delight their customers. Apple (below), provides a great example.

Apple Store Customer Experience

Sure, supermarkets and fast food retailers favour logistics and purchasing psychology over their customer’s experience – but most of these brands are in a never-ending price slashing war.

Any retailer with a strategy based on delivering quality products and services understands the value of developing a strong brand, and establishing differentiation. Our focus must be on creating the best possible customer experience – that’s what leads to sustainable profit.

To manage your ecommerce marketing with a ‘sell-as-much-as-possible’ mindset is to disrespect your customer.

Online retailers don’t have the benefits of a friendly customer service assistant, some soothing background music, and a beautifully designed store.

We need to make up for this.

We need to make our customer’s experience more personal.

We need to use a gift-giving mindset if we want to make our customers this happy.

You need to start treating your customers like gift recipients

What’s the first thing that happens when you walk into a store?

Someone asks you if you need help. They ask what you’re looking for. They can understand your style and personality, enough to make a judgement call on the type of things you might be interested in.

Why don’t we do that in online retail?

Sure, lots of clothing retailers split their site’s navigation into ‘men’ and ‘women’. We enable users to filter our products list. Some marketers even segment their email lists to deliver more targeted offers.

That’s a great start. But we need to do so much more.

We need to find a way to work out who our customers really are.

A small group of innovative online retailers are blazing the trail on this one. The emergence of personlised ecommerce shopping services shows that a better customer experience is possible and profitable. Trunkclub, a menswear retailer offering personalised stylist services, was recently acquired by Nordstrom for $350 million. This getting to know your customer stuff really works.

To create a truly great customer experience, we need to treat selling like gift giving

  • Find out as much as possible about your potential customers. Instead of leaving them to browse generically, aimlessly – curate a bunch of personalised suggestions that you think your new giftee might like.
  • Explain the story behind each suggestion, show that you went to the trouble to work out what that individual customer might want. Remember, it’s the thought that counts.
  • If your customer selects a gift, follow up and see how they like it. Make them feel special. The unwrapping must be memorable. The thanks must be genuine.

Imagine if your online shopping experience made your customer feel like they are receiving a gift!

Even if they pay for it in the end, you can still make it feel like their birthday.

Flickr Image Courtesy Kiwi Morado

Don’t try and give a gift every day. You only dilute the authenticity of your gesture. If the thought, the understanding, the personal story is missing, the gift doesn’t mean anywhere near as much.

By all means keep your gift suggestions regular, but not so frequent that it seems trite or common. Put all of your efforts into that individual customer’s experience.

They’ll love you for it. They’ll look forward to your regular suggestions. They’ll accost the postman for their gifts, and remember their joy in unwrapping their treasures.

The 3 core gift giving principles your ecommerce strategy needs

You’ve heard ’em a thousand times before.

They’re the three cliches of giving a gift…

  • #1. The gift is in the giving.
  • #2. It’s the thought that counts.
  • #3. Always open the card first.

It might sound a smidgen cryptic, but I’ll explain the parallels.

If you apply each principle to your ecommerce marketing strategy, you’ll start building a group of loyal repeat customers.

That’s the best foundation for online retail success.

#1. Craft the best possible experiences

The gift is in the giving.

Improve Your Customer Experience

Sometimes, the gift giving itself can be the most memorable part. Birthdays are a blur of cake cutting, wrapping ripping, treat eating bonanza. We’re so fond of the traditions that come along with the gifts. Easter is about the quest to beat your brothers and sisters to finding those little chocolate eggs strewn around the house. Christmas is so much more exciting when you’re wake up to a stocking of gifts left at your bedside by a mysterious big fat red man.

The experiences are what we look forward to the most.

Sometimes it’s not about the t-shirt or the book or the chair that you’re selling. Your customer can get this from anywhere.

It’s about the finding and the picking and the unwrapping and the enjoying.

That’s why people will pick you over your competitors.

That’s why they’ll come back and buy from you again.

#2. Generate personalised suggestions

It’s the thought that counts.

Image Courtesy Https://

Everyone’s received the obligatory box of Favourites as a gift at one time or another. Your first though – cliché.

Of course, a box of chocolates is a great thing in and of itself. But such a generic gift is thoughtless and impersonal. You’re far more likely to remember the song your friend writes and performs just for you. They might be a terrible singer, much less a songwriter, and the gift itself is more fleeting, but it means so much more to you.

You need to go to the trouble of getting to know each and every individual customer as well as you possibly can. If you can offer personalised suggestions, if you can go the extra you prove that you care.

That’s why people will pick you over your competitors.

That’s why they’ll come back and buy from you again.

#3. Share a story that resonates

Always open the card first.

Flickr Image Courtesy Punctuated

The story that goes along with the gift makes it last forever. Every time you use it, you remember that story, and how receiving that gift made you feel. You recount the story to your friends and family.

The bottle of Shiraz you bought after a winery tour is so much more special than one you picked up at half price from Dan Murphy’s.

You need to make sure your gift means something to the giver. Explain the context. Spark an emotional response from the giftee. Give the gift a story.

That’s why people will pick you over your competitors.

That’s why they’ll come back and buy from you again.

The takeaway: find a way to get to know your customers

The online retailers with the best possible customer experiences will have the most sustainable success.

If you infuse the 3 gift giving principles into every part of your business, you’ll be a few steps ahead of the fast-chasing pack.

There’s a bunch of different ways to build these three pillars into your marketing foundation.

It’s no secret that most of these involve personalisation.

Next week, I’ve got an article prepared that takes you through the ecommerce brands who are figuring this whole ‘understand your customer’ thing out.

(‘Future James’ here – we’ve since published the afore-mentioned article. You can read it right now. It’s called “The ecommerce business model you need, to dominate your niche“. You should read it now.)

I’ll explain the business models that can set you up to make this stuff work, and I’ll let you in on some simple advice to help you put your gift-giving customer experience mindset into practice.

In the meantime, it might be an idea to brush up on your ecommerce personalisation knowledge. Here’s 3 of our best articles to get you primed for next week’s follow up.

Happy learning, and don’t forget to subscribe for next week’s post and more ecommerce learning goodness…

By James Dillon
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