Christmas is almost here and unless you are Scrooge, then Christmas and the holiday season means one thing… Shopping – and lots of it.

Last December online shopping traffic in the UK rose 30% from 2011, hitting 2.8 billion visits. Cyber Monday 2013 was the biggest online shopping day ever and you don’t need an analyst to predict that the rapid increase in smartphone sales and maturing omni-channel strategies such as click-and-collect, will undoubtedly generate a similar stratospheric rise as this year draws to a close.

So how do we use online shopping effectively to navigate Christmas, yet still retain the personal touch? The internet, by it’s very nature, is impersonal. Delivering emotion down a Wi-Fi connection is tough, and it’s almost impossible to tailor an experience specifically to your loved ones… Cue the ‘gift finder’.

With the odd exception, ‘gift finders’ fail to hit the mark. They’re often less useful than a filtered search. A sweeping statement, so let me explain, because it exposes an endemic issue with online gifting.

Their failure is rooted in the inappropriate use of a computational calculation to manufacture an emotional response. The inference is mathematical. Great gifting, as in great customer service, isn’t about maths, it is about human inference. An experienced sales professional would never ask “How much money do you want to spend?” as they risk offending you as a customer. Instead they’ll ask other questions that infer a price range such as “Is it for a special occasion?”.

Intuition and retail nous beats invasive computational maths every time. Intrinsic value and tangibility cannot be conveyed via a simple filtering process, plus a human engagement is a powerful opportunity for the brand. The medium is the message.

So how can you counteract the impersonal nature of online gifting?

You could build an aspirational brand with a weight of authority that commands delight in the recipient. A noble pursuit, but difficult to master at a brand level and often a costly route for the shopper.

You could curate the gift buying experience, using a brand ambassador or ‘guru’ to help you find the ideal gift. This can work, but requires prior knowledge and an affinity with the curator.

There’s product personalisation or monogramming, ensuring pleasure for the end recipient, but it is an awkward and costly process for the retailer to implement.

The real issue to overcome is not around the end recipient, it is around the giver, after all they both ultimately decide and pay for the gift. The more you can obfuscate the price behind another emotional construct such as brand, scarcity or authority, the better. It leaves more room for manoeuvre and more in the wallet; improving the giver’s enjoyment of the process both emotionally and financially.

This is why another gifting construct fails to deliver for me – gift cards.

Whilst gift cards try to close the gap through a brand decision, they remain only one step away from the impersonal act of giving money. To quote UK Consumer Psychologist, Cathrine Jansson-Boyd, “People won’t give cash because it seems like an insult”.

Maybe it’s my Britishness, but when a present is marked with a price it places an explicit value on a relationship which feels vulgar and discomforting, unless it’s a large figure and then its unsettling or embarrassing. Either way there’s a reason for removing the price. Gift cards, no matter how they’re presented, leave the price firmly on.

Gift cards (and their precursor book tokens) obviously do have significant benefits or they wouldn’t be in their 81st year generating £4.4bn in the UK. They overcome the difficult ‘sizing’ issue, minimise the returns problem and remove the element of gift finding. BUT they still represent an emotional detachment.

For me this is where Loop Commerce enters the fray, occupying the sweetspot between the ‘personal service’ and ‘gift cards’.

Crucially with Loop, the human and emotional act of finding a gift is retained. It is not ‘avoided’ by a gift card or ‘computed’ with a gift finder. The giver still uses their own intuition to choose the gift, keeping the positive trappings of the emotional connection, whilst being unfettered by addresses, sizes and delivery details. It is as near as you’ll get to being there – and getting it right!

The advancement of these new technologies will inspire a step change in the way we buy presents online, closing the gap between the online ‘impersonal’ and emotional ‘personal’. Loop Commerce is positioned to revolutionise the way we find the ideal gift, as it accepts that you (as a human) are the best person to choose the most appropriate gift for a loved one. It just so happens that you may not have all the details to hand at the time.

In facilitating this process, rather than replacing it with an artificial construct, Loop Commerce pairs emotion with convenience. An aspect we’re all striving for. It is now down to retailers to adopt the technology, as in doing so they can ride the wave of the online retail success, turning an ordinary Christmas into a very Merry one…

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

– Alex Blaney, Co-Founder and Creative Director, Session Digital

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