From the shopper’s viewpoint, Loop’s e-gifting solution needed to be simple and intuitive. For retailers, Loop’s platform needed to seamlessly integrate into their existing systems and take on the management of complex tasks behind the scenes. Loop accomplished both.
The buyer visits Macy’s.com or any other store that has Loop’s solution integrated, and can purchase any product as a gift without knowing recipient’s size, preferred color or shipping address. Loop then sends a gift note – email or text – to the recipient and allows them to see their gift online, specify their size, color and shipping address and have their gift shipped to them. Alternatively, the recipient can “virtually” exchange the gift before it ships.
The gifting experience is easy and intuitive for senders and recipients. And, as importantly, this new way of gifting preserves all the fundamental characteristics of traditional gift giving. For example, when accepting the gift, a recipient sees the product and a thoughtful greeting – there are no prices shown, no gift cards, shopping carts or long checkout processes.
Technologically, the simple user experience is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The 90 percent underneath is a myriad of business processes combined with solutions to dozens of technical challenges. We at Loop spent more than two and a half years solving these challenges through extensive research and development and collaboration between our engineering, product and design groups with continued feedback and collaboration with our retail partners.
The common theme to the various challenges Loop had to overcome is that e-commerce sites are optimized for users buying for themselves, when they know their own product preferences, shipping addresses, sizes, etc. This model breaks down when a person tries to buy for someone else and doesn’t have all the information required, as typically is the case with gifting.
With this broader challenge in mind, consider just a few of the specific technical hurdles overcome by the e-gifting solution we at Loop Commerce have created:
- Online shopping carts and checkout processes require a stock-keeping unit (SKU) that uniquely identifies a specific product and all its attributes (size, color, etc.). Let’s say a shopper chooses a certain sweater to send as an e-gift for her friend, knowing that with Loop e-gifting, the recipient will provide the preferred size and color. By not choosing a specific size and color up front, the sender is actually not buying and sending a specific SKU, but rather a set of dozens of possible SKUs, each representing a different variation of size and color. While regular shopping carts and store checkout processes can’t accommodate this, Loop’s e-gifting platform can deal with purchases at the product rather than SKU level and abstract the semantics for the store, so the retailer’s systems do not need to change.
- In a similar fashion, to support a buyer purchasing a product, paying and checking out, e-commerce systems require a shipping address. Because they were designed for users buying for themselves, order fulfillment and management systems are not able to wait for another user to come at a later time and provide shipping information. Our data shows that during the recent Mother’s Day shopping season, for example, many customers purchased their gifts in advance so that there were often several weeks between the buying of the gift and the gift delivery when the recipient provides the details to complete the process.
- All e-commerce systems were designed to calculate tax and shipping charges based on a specific product SKU purchase and a designated shipping address. With e-gifting, both these items might be unknown to the buyer. We created unique technology that allows the system to correctly calculate tax and shipping for the gift buyer without knowing these critical data pieces. As a result, the buyer covers the complete cost of the gift and the recipient does not need to add money later to redeem their own gift.
- Finally, specific SKUs and products go in and out of stock and their prices can go up or down. We developed a range of solutions and technologies to handle these cases to ensure gift recipients have a rewarding and positive experience, even when these scenarios happen.
Once again, we at Loop didn’t merely overcome these technical hurdles, but we did so in a way that allows us to easily integrate with the existing e-commerce and backend systems. As a result, Loop e-gifting enables retailers’ systems to accomplish tasks that they were not designed to do, without requiring any changes to these systems, disrupting retailers’ existing roadmap or requiring support from their IT resources.
These few examples are merely illustrative of the dozens of challenges Loop faced in creating its e-gifting solution. Retailers all think the idea of e-gifting a real product is terrific, but no one previously could wrap their arms around the technical challenges presented by existing e-commerce systems.
Any single retailer would not be able to accomplish what the Loop e-gifting solution does without making a lot of custom changes to its systems at great expense in time, money and manpower. Such a project would take a couple of years or longer for any given retailer, and even with such an investment, without Loop’s learnings and insights developed over many years and across many retailers, the solution would be far from optimal for the retailer and their customers.
Loop’s SaaS solution can be up and running on any retailer’s systems within a few weeks. We have proved this time and again with Macy’s and other retail partners, including Lancôme, Urban Decay, Diane von Furstenberg, Johnny Was, Relax the Back, and Thomas Dean among others.
We will share more insights about Loop’s solution, its unique benefits for users and retailers and additional challenges we surmounted in our next post.