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Episode 76
July 25, 2018

There is No One Best Experience

For all of the testing and optimization we do on today's ecommerce sites we are missing a vital section of our shopper personas: those who buy on behalf of someone else. Monika Kochhar of Smartgift walks us through the "Science of Gifting" and how, at its heart, gift-giving can be improved in today's digital commerce experiences.

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About Monika Kochhar

Monika Kochhar is the co-founder of Smartgift, a gifting platform that is working to solve the complexity of shopping for others.

About Smartgift

Consumer brands use Smartgift's platform to let gift recipients customize their gifts or swap them for other gifts of their choice from comparably priced recommendations. Gift senders pay for the item after the recipient has made their pick.

A deeper look into the "Science of Gifting"

  • Smartgift is taking rich qualitative and quantitative data to map out human behavior in gifting and shopping for others. By better understanding human behavior in gifting, they can make this process much easier for shoppers.
  • A function built into Smartgift called the Intelligence Swapping Mechanism learns semantically over time and maps out buying preferences such as color, fit, and size. This helps shoppers easily buy the perfect gift for an occasion for a particular person.
  • Smartgift hopes that over time analyzing gifting data will close the gap between what a gift shopper gives and what the recipient ultimately picks on their platform.

Is tech changing people or empowering people?

  • More specifically, are the way people gift or are gifting patterns affecting the way tech is created?
  • Monika mentions that ecommerce only accounts for less than 10% of all shopping which points to the fact that we are still in the early stages of online shopping and what it could be in the future. The more technology begins to evolve and grow, the more we'll see changing mindsets and the more shoppers will use ecommerce as a way to shop for themselves and others.
  • Amazon's Prime Day is an example of technology changing the way customers shop by encouraging people to shop online in large numbers for no other reason except that Amazon declared Prime Day a national holiday. Maybe the ability to purchase anything instantly has changed customers' impulse buying habits.

One area in which technology is going to change based on the user is in the end-to-end giving journey. There is going to be a deeper need to get the gift right. For too long, the receiver experience has been an afterthought in retail. Monika believes in using data mapping to build a better shopping experience that places equal emphasis on the gifter and the recipient.

Maybe the process starts with voice and ends with an augmented reality visceral experience of opening a gift. The recipient still has a choice on the physical gift after opening a digital version of the original gift sent by the gifter.

How will Aunt Brenda feel when she finds out you didn't like the polka dot sweater she picked?

  • How does the gift-giver feel in having their gift idea being replaced by the recipient. Does this diminish the satisfaction of the giver?
  • Smartgift has found that, for the gifter, the joy comes in the expression of gift-giving and also in not having the guilt of giving something less thoughtful, like a gift card.
  • Through Smartgift, happiness has been maximized on both ends of gift-giving; for the recipient and the sender.
  • As long as gift-givers are allowed to express themselves thoughtfully in gifting, they are still happy if the recipient decides on something different.

Is there room for personalization within smart giving?

  • Gifters have started to express personalization in gift-giving through special notes and selecting digital gift wrapping. Gifters want to participate in the delight of gift-giving digitally so that it doesn't just feel like some sort of emotionless transaction.
  • Thank you notes on the recipients side is an area of personalization that happens in smart gifting that has provided a wealth of data which helps us understand how recipients feels about a product or brand.

How Smartgift can help users give back.

  • Smartgift allows recipients the choice of sending cookies back to the gifter as a thank you gift after receiving flowers from the sender.
  • Smartgift sees an opportunity to use in-kind gifting as a way to encourage recipients to get involved with giving back where the recipient is given the option to give to a charitable cause of the sender's choice as a thank you.
  • In the future, Smartgift would like to partner with charities to make giving back more accessible to on their platform.

Our best practices around conversion rate optimization might be misguided

  • Our efforts are focused to one persona, the buyer, or the person purchasing for themselves. Smartgift is focused on a different persona, someone who is purchasing for someone else.
  • Ecommerce has evolved to create a great shopping experience and now we're at a point where we can dive deeper into the metadata and what else is happening within the shopping journey. We can now work toward answering questions such as, "Why are they shopping?" and "Are they shopping for someone else?"

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Phillip: [00:01:07] Hello and welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast about cutting edge and next generation commerce. I'm Phillip.

Brian: [00:01:13] I'm Brian.

Phillip: [00:01:14] And today we have a first time guest, but a someone I've been a very big fan of for a long time. Monika Kochhar from SmartGift is joining us. Say hello, Monica.

Monika: [00:01:24] Hi, Phillip. Hi, Brian. And I've been a big fan of yours, too.

Phillip: [00:01:29] Everyone's got a lot of mutual respect on this particular show. It's gonna be a lot of fun. And I can't wait to hear more about what you guys are doing over there. But before we begin, want to remind you that the best way to stay in touch with what's going on here on every single week's episode of Future Commerce is to head on over to and subscribe to our FC Insiders newsletter. It's your best bet for all things that are both future and/or commerce and all of the rabbit trails that we take in between.

Brian: [00:01:56] {laughter} Lots of them.

Phillip: [00:01:56] Make sure that you also subscribe anywhere where you get podcasts. And we're everywhere these days, from iHeartRadio to Spotify and Google podcasts, Apple podcasts, all the rest... And make sure you drop us a 5-Star while you're there. OK, with all that out of the way.

Brian: [00:02:12] Yes. So, Monika, tell us a little bit more about who you are. You know, what's your story? What inspired you to do what you're doing now?

Monika: [00:02:20] Yeah. So, you know, I mean, for me, I've really been a product, I guess, of really just a few lucky happenstances in my life. And I think first was really just, you know, I was born and raised in India to parents where both mom and dad were scientists. My childhood was very atypical. You know, after school, we would just, during this infernal summer heat of northern India, my brother and I would just spend time in my parents' lab because they had air conditioning and a power generator during electricity cut outs. So we were just always in a lab kind of looking at how scientists were tinkering with things. And then we would look at bacteria under a microscope. So it was just a... I think it was really kind of a sea of wonder, if you will. And that really enlightened in me, I would say a love for science and technology. And overall, just to see a woman, you know, in STEM was important and deeply influential to me. And then sort of in my life path after that, after high school in India, I was going to go into something very traditional like medicine, because that's really what you do. Either you go into engineering or medicine. And for some reason, my brother insisted I should apply to liberal arts colleges in America and which was really sort of how it all happened. So I got into Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. They offered me an international scholarship. And, you know, coming from this humble academic backgrounds, it was the best thing happened to me. So I came here at the age of 18, started from scratch and, you know, learning a whole new cultural language and to be exposed to that mindset, the American mindset of thinking, of solving problems, of sort of looking out across disciplines was a very, very compelling platform for me to grow out of. And not to mention being part of an all women's college, I think really fueled some deep relationships in my life with incredible women. And then I think the third thing really was how I met my co-founder. After Mount Holyoke, I went to London School of Economics. And that's really been 15 years ago since I met Bernd Strenitz, who is my co-founder now. And we both really already knew that we wanted to build things that would change the status quo. And so for us, you know, we both worked in banking and finance, in tech, M&A and tech trading. I was one of the few women on the trading floor. And from then on, we started our first company, our first business together, which was an e-commerce platform for the music industry. And we re actually bootstrapped it. It grew rapidly and later on got acquired by The Orchard, which used to be the largest independent music distributor. And then that was subsequently bought by Sony Music. And so after all that, we started SmartGift and now we've been working on it for almost three and a half years.

Brian: [00:05:02] Very cool.

Phillip: [00:05:02] FWow. What a story. If you've made the rounds in any of the sort of, where I met you anyway, is in some of these sort of trade show scene, at least around e-commerce. And that's certainly where I met you. And I believe I spoke to you first when I saw you present at Fashion Digital a few years ago in New York. And I was really impressed with your take on the science of gifting. I don't know if you want to touch on that a little bit... Why you think,,, What sort of sets you apart in that space. I know you have so much information around that.

Monika: [00:05:45] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. We met at... That's right. We met in New York. And I remember that because right after that we were talking about the psychology and science of gifting. And then you and I started chatting about it, as well. So, I mean, I guess I should take, you know, take a step back and kind of just sort of talk about what we do. So it's a smart gift. Essentially, what we're doing is we're solving the complexity of shopping for others. So either, you know, you're buying for yourself or you're buying for someone else, really. And and if you look at some of the first wave in e-commerce, it was about enabling buying simple things online like books, music, etc. I think that it paved the way to buy more complex things online. Like apparel, shoes, groceries... But all of this was sort of geared under the umbrella for choosing for oneself. And then the e-gift card came along. And I think it really created this... And I think, Phil, you and I talked about it a couple of years back that it really created this customer experience of just handing over some money to others and leaving it to them to go transact it.

Phillip: [00:06:43] WRight.

Monika: [00:06:43] Well, yeah. So for us with SmarGift really we're enabling that next phase where people can shop, you know, anything for anyone else down to the product level, whatever that might be, and send it to them instantaneously through any conversational platform. So in terms of, you know, what we see in gifting or what we see into the mindset around gifting, it's actually pretty exciting. The science of gifting is extremely complex. And you know, what we're noticing, and generally I think, is that the current consumer mindset is all about seamless shopping experiences, fast to hidden payments and everything is just mobile driven. Right? So for us, where we sit, we have this unique brand, because we have power enabling the gift experience, we have this unique vantage point to really understand when people are shopping for others, what's the occasion, what they're buying, you know, how much they're spending on different relationships in their lives. And because their gift recipients can select the preferences, such as size, color, taste or swap the gift for a different item in the same price range. We also understand their individual behaviors. So these tend to be really deep insights for us. You know, actually, it was funny. We just just said recently we saw that the average order value in Mother's Day was slightly higher than on Valentine's Day with male gifters. So I guess men would always be momma's boys, in that sense. On birthdays and other event driven gifting, it tends to be extremely last minute with majority of gifting happening on the day of or the day after a birthday. And then in terms of the mindset around, you know, different occasions, have different behaviors. So now as we will go into Q4 gift shopping, there is a whole new set of different behavior pattern there. You know, peek online gifting is getting more and more pushed towards that last days leading up to the holiday and and often past shipping cut off. So with SmartGift, because of its immediate nature, we are able to extend that online gifting business for retailers all the way to the end. And also, what's been funny is there also seems to be this pattern of what we call "the guilty gift phenomenon," and it's literally right after Christmas or Hanukkah. And it seems to be like, you know, when people who SmartGift a day after and often it's an addendum to the main gift, and it seems like it's probably because they spent less on the original gift than what they... {laughter} So they're making up for it. Yeah. So it's you know, it's it's extremely thrilling to be working on just working with such rich qualitative and, of course, quantitative data to map out what they working on with gifting.

Brian: [00:09:30] Wow, that's amazing. And that data is so powerful, just even with what you've just said here on this podcast, and I'm sure you have so much more data. My wheels are already turning about ways that I can help shoppers, or help merchants, kind of connect with their shoppers on a deeper level. That's amazing.

Phillip: [00:09:51] If you can help merchants connect with their shoppers. Can you help Amazon and its two hour downtime on Prime Day?

Brian: [00:09:58] Ohhh.

Phillip: [00:10:00] I mean, you've just left Amazon, but it sounds like maybe you should have been there for a Prime Day.

Monika: [00:10:06] Yeah. And it's true, Brian. For retailers and brands... We're really helping retailers and brands really get closer to their customers in powerful ways. During those important occasions in their life. So from gifting to even peer-to-peer shopping. SmartGift really removes that friction. You know, the confusion when I don't know my dad's shoe size or the exact address. Or Phil, if I wanted to send him a thank you gift, right? Or, you know, which shade of lipstick to give to my friend. So all those things, we really remove all that for retailers and brands and their customers.

Brian: [00:10:39] Well, you just brought up something that I... This is totally not on our questions here. But you mentioned what shade of lipstick to get your friends. That relates back to something we've talked a lot on the show called body data, an idea called body data. And have you started to kind of connect with with body data at all any more? Like skin tone or shape or, you know, size or whatever it is. And do you use that in the equation for how people gift?

Monika: [00:11:18] Yeah, that's a great question. Yes, absolutely. So a couple of things that we're working on, well that the platform already does is, it's called the intelligence swapping mechanism. And essentially, it is learning semantically over time. And what we're doing is... Because now we know because we understand recipient's preferences around the size, as you mentioned, or the color or the fit, you know, or sort of the other preferences. So we really start mapping that out. So we really do, you know, over time start closing the delta between what a gift shopper gives and what the recipient ultimately picks. And in that creating that machine really for us is how do you get people to buy the perfect gift for the perfect occasion, for that particular relationship? So that how do you really personalize that communication down to the product level?

Brian: [00:12:12] Yeah, absolutely. I can definitely see it would be useful.

Monika: [00:12:16] It's really fascinating, all the things that are going to happen in that field, I think is really exciting, even in health tech.

Brian: [00:12:24] Yes, exactly. Yeah, I totally agree. We've talked about that quite a bit on the show, as well. How body data is going to affect health tech and how health tech is going to affect retail shopping.

Phillip: [00:12:36] %.I do think it's interesting because, at least in this space, the way that someone might be motivated to give up some sort of more personal information about them, not just in gift selection, but in maybe answering questions about themselves and their preferences, is definitely when it's tied more towards the immediate gratification of receiving something in return, like from a friend who's trying to send them a gift... It feels to me like they may be more willing to submit that kind of information rather than in some kind of a campaign from a retailer that might say something like fill out your profile. So I definitely see like some value there. I see how your brain is kind of connecting that, Brian. That's very interesting. Yeah. And as a merchant, I would love to be able to have more data like that to be able to drive more creative offers, more better understand my customer, better personalize the site to her or him. Yeah, that's sort of fascinating.

Monika: [00:13:36] Yeah, exactly. And so one of the things that we've been doing with our brand partners is running email campaigns around different occasions. And you know, no one just wants to have that promotion email that goes out with 20% off, you know, Dad and Grad season. Right? They actually really want to get down to what are the gifts? Which gifts are being bought? What are those relationships among people? So when we give them back gift insights, we really are able to give them insights around the relationships. There's an affluent parent group giving Tumi backs to their college age Europe going children this summer. So we are able to go down to the story level of the product and the people and really, you know, kind of take away... If you think about CRM, it's been very linear. And I think gifting is at one CRM where you can really kind of see a relational CRM. And we are able to power that for our partners, which has been really effective and really exciting. So pretty much every occasion, every holiday, all our partners do marketing campaigns around smart gifting.

Brian: [00:14:43] Just an aside, and if you don't know this, that's totally fine, but do you know offhand what the percentage of our economy is based off of giving? Or at least maybe online purchasing?

Monika: [00:14:58] Yes. E-commerce is still only 10% in the US of total retail. Think about it. It's just such... Even now, it's such early days.

Brian: [00:15:08] Yeah. Totally. Well, actually, here's another question for you then. Do you feel like the technology is changing the way that we gift or do you feel like we're just tapping, like we're using technology to empower gifting patterns that are already in place? I guess which one's having a bigger effect on the other? Is it tech on people or people on tech?

Monika: [00:15:39] That's such a philosophical and fascinating question. I think the influence is both ways. If you think about, you know, a sort of tech platforms that have enabled all new customer experiences from us hailing a taxi but pressing a button on an app to getting fresh groceries demand. I think these have all been sort of tech nudge, customer mindset, behavior changes. Right? And I think in terms of gifting, there's definitely if you divide it up, right, there's gifting happening, and then there is just peer to peer shopping happening, where people are just buying something for others, which might be a gift, might not be a gift, but it has the same friction to it. And then I think so there is the segment of people who will always buy... I will go into a store, buy a T-shirt and give it to my partner, or I want to buy it online. So for now, what we've been able to do is add value on that immediate, that last minute, that online digital gift experience, and buying for somebody else experience, but we also, you know, start looking at the omni channel. Like how do you kind of take that in-store? Where I'm in-store, I see something for Phil, I want to send it to him right away, and through SmartGifting, from in-store to his mobile phone I can drive that experience. But I think in terms of just the more innovative technology there is out there, the more easier it's becoming to just kind of create new experiences. I think the more so because customers are using it. It's almost like supply and demand. Like the more people, the more there is, the more people are kind of adopting new frameworks, new mineshafts.

Brian: [00:17:25] Yeah.

Monika: [00:17:26] What do you think? What do you think is driving what?

Brian: [00:17:29] Oh, I think your answer is good. I think that, and this is just one pundit's opinions on this. But it is interesting. I think that this sort of applies to the greater "how is technology changing people versus just empowering them?" question that we see in many places in retail right now. And I love Phillip's reference to Amazon just now, and I feel like technology is clearly changing the shopping habits. We wouldn't have Prime Day without Amazon, and people wouldn't be spending, or attempting to spend, a whole bunch of money in the middle of July for no other reason that, you know, Amazon declared it a national shopping holiday, right? In the same way, I feel like gifting as... It's interesting, I feel like maybe there's more... We're looking for reasons to give things to people now, and maybe when it's at our finger tips, and it's like, "Okay, yeah, now I can just do this with the push of a button right here as I'm browsing," or "Oh, yeah, I remember that this person always wanted that thing and I can send it to him right now." Maybe in the past we wouldn't have actually went out and bought it because we wouldn't have even been browsing and seen the ability to make that gift in that moment, or we wouldn't have been able to send that gift in a way that was discreet or a gift-like. So, I mean, it is interesting. I think your answer, though, is on point. And it is both, clearly. Yeah.

Monika: [00:19:19] Yeah...

Phillip: [00:19:20] But I think technology democratizes the ability of... Democratize is probably the wrong word. It allows us to have infinite choice where we wouldn't typically. Because it takes a certain size of a market to be able to service small boutiques that only cater to specific niches. A very broad gift that is given the world over is flowers. And you'll have many, many, many flower shops. But even at the hyper local level, there's only so many flower shops that one little tiny metro area could sustain. And it's probably less than a dozen. It's smaller than you think. And and how much smaller still, if you wanted to, I think of other like niche players in the space that technology has supported, like Shari's Berries, how many coated strawberry gifts can a small media market be able to sustain? Not many. So it takes something like the Internet and e-commerce to be able to grow the ability of a company to be able to... You can send Harry & David pears to just about anybody you know.

Brian: [00:20:37] That's a really good point.

Phillip: [00:20:38] Otherwise, what you have is you have these outsized, and we still have this today, but you have outsized competitors who might spring to mind... You know, the very large flower shops online who are doing all kinds of different gifts, but they become the Walmarts or the Amazons in their space. And I think smaller niche players will still be able to have a space and have exposure because they're going to hit on something that you wouldn't probably have thought of otherwise.

Monika: [00:21:05] Yeah.

Brian: [00:21:06] Yeah, I think also one other thing to add is as personalization and personal data, like we mentioned body data. That's just one form of personal data. You know, the more of that that we have, the more opportunities that we're gonna be given and recommended about about our friends. You know, I mean? It's like, oh, yeah, we've talked a ton about personalization for individuals. Like, oh, yeah, you've got to know your shoppers. Well, you've got to know your shoppers' friends and family, because if you can push things that are relevant, potential gifts to your shoppers that are related to their friends and family that they would have never known about otherwise. I mean, gift giving his hard. Showing them things that fall right in their wheelhouse, they're definitely going to want to spend more money on their friends and family.

Phillip: [00:22:01] In Brian's perfect world, he wants it to pop up when you're trying to send peanut brittle to somebody that it access their health information to see they have a peanut allergy.

Brian: [00:22:11] Exactly. Exactly.

Monika: [00:22:21] It seems to me that there is this deep re-imagination of the entire sort of customer experience because of technology, because we can reimagine a whole new world and our interactions in it. And I think, when you brought up the whole idea of flowers or Harry & David, so actually 1-800-Flowers is one of our partners in innovation. And just to see how they're using tech has been actually remarkable. So they gave you new tech initiatives as really just sort of constant part of their business framework. You know, and even with SmartGift, we're enhancing their customer experience for them further, which is already a gifting experience. So it's always about like, how do you improve, how do you enhance, how do you add multiple levels of value, you know, to their customers now, but also in the future? So one thing we know a SmartGift is enabling for them is if I send you flowers, you might not want flowers. Maybe you're not going to be home for the next five days to enjoy your flowers, so you can actually swap for Harry & David pears, for Michelle's Cookies, or swap among their other family of brands. It's a creative, multilevel experience and will also expose customers to other products.

Brian: [00:23:39] That's amazing. I love that so much.

Monika: [00:23:44] Yeah, I think ultimately it's really about, you know, the role of the is getting so much more complex and demanding. They're involved and they get even more involved from everything to do with their journey.

Brian: [00:23:56] Totally.

Monika: [00:23:56] So we really have to start customers as co-creators.

Brian: [00:23:59] Yes. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Like Glossier a great example of that.

Monika: [00:24:04] So the are co-creators and then co-marketers being the influencers.

Brian: [00:24:08] You mentioned 1-800-Flowers tech strategy, which I absolutely love. And I mean, I've always been impressed with how aggressively they've gone after new tech. Do you think in general that retailers...a lot of them are looking to tech to stay relevant... Do you agree with that strategy? You think the retailer should focus their dollars into tech?

Monika: [00:24:36] Yeah, I mean, and it's kind of going back to even when we were talking about health. I think that any industry, whether it's retail, insurance, finance, health, they all need to be looking towards tech to position themselves for the future. I mean, you know, if you think about it before it used to be finance. Now it's fintech. Right? It used to be health. Now it's health tech. Every disruption... Insurance, we call insure tech. And I think for the more successful and fostering retailers, I think that really you can kind of sum up what they're really pursuing now is retail tech. So it's no longer about the silos. It's really about having technology bring completely new experiences for them.

Brian: [00:27:07] So how is this playing out for SmartGift? You know, as you're kind of developing the product and continuing to add to its capabilities, how do you see some of this new tech that's coming out playing into the world of gifting? So like voice or AI, chat bots, augmented reality, all of that... How are you seeing SmartGift interacting with some of these new technologies? Body data is great example, as well. We've talked about that already.

Monika: [00:27:34] I'm ready for the day when you have these tattoo's that are GPS enabled. With gifting that changes are equally transformative, you know, on two levels. I think the first, you know, the increase in digitization means that it's no longer acceptable to treat physical gifts and digital gifts as siloed outcomes. I mean, the whole experience now is influenced by the digital synopsis. So in the future, I think we expect the gifting continuum to reflect this merging of the physical and the digital. So even more deeply, you know, with AR, with VR. And I think, secondly, there's going to be a deeper need to get the gift right. So for too long, the receiver experiences has been this afterthought in retail, whether in goods that have attributes or based on asymmetric information. Well, for example, as we discussed, knowing the size, color preferences, et cetera. But I think in the future, the future is much more likely using the digital synopsis to enhance and build a powerful end to end gift journey that places equal emphasis on the gifter, on the sender, that might start using voice as its medium for search and ultimately with an augmented reality and virtual reality, visceral experience of opening the gift. And I think that's sort of, you know, that extension is going to be that holistic experience.

Brian: [00:29:02] That's a...

Monika: [00:29:02] Sorry about that. Did I just go on?

Brian: [00:29:05] That's amazing.

Phillip: [00:29:05] No, that's... But I think that's a technology first approach, because I can't think of what a real-world analog experience would look like. That's a digital first experience as far as I can tell. I'm imagining an experience where you would receive a gift and then walk it back into the department store and say, I don't like this. I want to shop at another store instead. It just doesn't happen, right? So it's very interesting. I also have to think, there's a... I'm stumbling over myself because I'm so excited at the moment. There's a sense that I have about the entitlement of the customer. So that could be a very positive thing. But I think it can also be sort of a negative thing. What do you think the sense of the gift giver is in having someone's gift idea sort of replaced or replaceable? Does it diminish the satisfaction of the giver of the gift? What have you looked into on that side?

Monika: [00:30:27] Yeah, that is a really interesting question. So in the basic psychology of gifting, the gift giver really has a reciprocity angle? And for the gift giver, it's about, you know, it's building that social cohesion, building that bond. It's sometimes even sort of, you know, asking back for favors through the exchange of gifting. And what we've seen is that gift givers are very happy to have... So in SmartGifting where the recipient chooses something different, the gift giver knows about it. So they can almost like build that profile up about that friend or family member that they gave a gift to. And what we find is a gift givers are actually very happy to have expressed themselves thoughtfully. So they have kind of alleviated their guilt or their concern, having gifted like, you know, a gift card over having not gifted anything. So they basically are saying, "Hey, at least I gave you what I liked for you. And if you choose something different, that's great, too." So now, like the utility of happiness has been maximized on both ends of the recipient and the sender. So, yeah, so it's really that. Gift givers, you know, it's for them as long as they're allowed to express themselves, allowed to kind of be able to give that gift, they're very happy even if the recipient decides on something different.

Phillip: [00:31:49] There is this sort of classic movie trope or a TV trope of the grandmother that takes care to knit a sweater for the grandchild. And the kid opens it, and they sort of have to feign excitement. Nobody really wants the sweater. You can't really take that one back to the department store. Brian, this reminds me of some of our, I think, episode 75 recently, about sort of the the attachment that people have to brands with the ability to sort of customize or personalize those gifts. Monika, is there any demand out there, do you think, for people to be able to attach some sort of personal touch to the gifts that they give to other people online or their ability to modify this sort of the intention of the gift? Anything in the realm of like personalization and customization that comes into play?

Monika: [00:32:43] Do you mean in terms of the personalization, the customization of the hand-off experience? Or do you mean in terms of the product itself where the recipient wants to potentially monogram it?

Phillip: [00:32:55] Yeah. Yeah. More of the product customization.

Monika: [00:32:58] So with a couple of our partners, with New Balance and then Tumi, they have personalization features where what we're seeing is that there's a very high percentage of recipients who definitely want their signatures, definitely want that monogramming and an aspect of who gave it to me. But ultimately, it's where we see the gift senders really playing it is in the delight of the experience. So, you know, they really want to be able to put a note in there. You know, they want to be able to digitally wrap the gifts. So we have this interactive wrapper that the recipient can scratch off. So we're seeing that a lot. It's more of like, how do you hand a gift digitally where it doesn't just seem like this transaction, but really thoughtful? How can you mimic that thoughtful gesture online? From the recipient side, another angle that we've found interesting is the thank you notes back are actually just a sea of information for us. Because that's really where you start seeing real sort of, you know, capture of why are people gifting? How are the recipients feeling about a product? You know, because they will really be pretty outspoken in their thank you notes, why they exchanged something, or why they went for something else, or what they really liked about the product. And so we find that pretty interesting, as well, from just a personal gift giving perspective. But from a personalization perspective, I think, yeah, when people are gifted something, and if they have the ability to, they definitely want to make it even more of their own. And we find that even more so with brands that have much higher AOVs. So with Tumi, we definitely see a lot of personalization.

Brian: [00:34:35] You know what this sort of eliminates? Sorry, I'm totally just off topic for one second. But this totally eliminates the need for any re-gifting ever. The re-gift is gone. The re-gift is dead.

Monika: [00:34:53] Did people ever re-gift? I guess it's a secret Santa gifts.

Brian: [00:34:57] Oh, no. Re-gifting happens or used to happen all the time. I mean, it's been, you know, joked about on many the TV show.

Phillip: [00:35:05] Right.

Brian: [00:35:05] AI mean I think I've re-gifted something before. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I have, at least once. I'm sorry to whoever I re-gifted. Now that can't be a joke anymore.

Phillip: [00:35:19] {laughter} I've certainly done it. I mean, if I have to cop to it, someone gave me a gift card to a high end movie theater not so long ago. And, you know, I... Monika, I really identify with that sort of feeling indebted to someone kind of feeling is like, "Oh, now I owe that person something." So I turn around, and I feel like I have to pass that on. It was a generic enough gift that I was able to pop that into someone, you know, giving it off to someone else. And then, you know, it was reciprocated. It was basically a big triangle. It was like the Lion King circle of life for gift cards that kept coming in. And I was sort of just keeping that circle of life going on.

Monika: [00:36:06] That was your guilty gift.

Brian: [00:36:09] {laughter} The guilty gift. Yes.

Phillip: [00:36:09] Exactly.

Brian: [00:36:09] Actually, I think you mentioned that guilt gift as something that sort of just to augment maybe a present that you felt was lacking or at least in response to a gift that you were giving. But I feel like there's a lot more to guilty gift giving than just that. Like once someone gives you a gift, you do feel indebted to them in some way. Hence the anti-gift acceptance policies that a lot of corporations have because of that strong, strong desire to repay or feel indebted to. Have you considered sort of like the someone gives you a gift, give them a gift back sort of functionality? Where it's like, "And here's some suggestions for this person, since they gave you a gift," or something along those lines where maybe it was a gift that was unexpected or a gift that was maybe in relation to something outside of standard holidays or birthdays or whatever.

Monika: [00:37:19] Yeah. Yeah, I think gifting is... So with flowers we have implemented this where a recipient can send back as a thank you gift a Cheryl's Cookie Basket, which I think is great. But also I think to your question and kind of looking at it from a different angle, gifting is so closely also related... In a way it's a very selfish transaction because you're really doing it for your happiness, for you sort of building of a bond, for you potentially, you know, kind of wanting an IOU back. But at the same time, if there's any transaction that's generous, it is gifting. Right? You're not buying for yourself. You're buying for somebody else. And we definitely think that there's a really big sort of opportunity in tying gifting with charitable cause.

Brian: [00:38:09] Oh I love that. Yes.

Monika: [00:38:09] Yeah. "Well, I just sent you a gift. And now on behalf a thank you, you can donate a couple of dollars to a charity of your choice (or of the sender's choice)." And I think that giving back within gifting is really important from a human to human perspective.

Brian: [00:38:32] Yeah. Actually, right before you said that, I was just thinking about that. That would be my next question. How have you interacted with some of these charitable organizations that are able to process gifts like that? Do you have any data that you can share around how users are responding to that? Are they taking advantage of this functionality? How is that coming into play in gifting in general?

Monika: [00:38:57] Yeah. So on the charity side, Brian, we haven't... Our product today came out in the market last year. And since then, we've just been growing really rapidly. You know, we are on eighteen enterprise retailers within a year and now these are the kind of things that we want to work on next. How do we enhance that experience even further, not just from a customer experience perspective, but from just like a humanitarian perspective?

Brian: [00:39:23] I love that.

Monika: [00:39:24] ,How can we get into those partnerships where we enable giving back, as well. So that's something we're starting to look into now. And we're really excited by it.

Brian: [00:39:34] It's amazing. You know, we have so much new technology coming, and we've talked about that already, and how important it is to invest in that. But there's so much technology that we have right now with the right partnerships. If you leverage the right partnerships that can result in so much additional functionality and benefit for customers. I mean, then we're talking about, you know, nonprofits. But I mean, I think this is true for profit, as well. Partnerships are waiting out there to provide customers value. And, you know, if you go out and build connections using tools that already exist or using internal teams to create those connections, I think there's still so much left to do. I think of, you know, in our world looking at e-commerce platforms and other functionality that sort of surrounds them, there's still so much building left to do, just between tools. I think there's a lot, just for for our merchants, we don't have to necessarily go and hit the most recent technology. There might be low-hanging fruit opportunities that like what we're just talking about right now that are worth pursuing first. So I love that, Monika, that that's sort of like your next play.

Monika: [00:40:53] Yeah. And I also think, you know, speaking of low hanging opportunities... Yeah, it's so true. Because, you know, we're just looking at... Also thinking about, you know, sort of retailers and brands and having to compete with the obvious I think the elephant in the room, if you will. I think gifting is also so deeply personal that people really kind of endorse brands. They're endorsing the retailer. They're endorsing the brand, especially when you're getting a product level gift. I think when you look at gift cards, you can give an Amazon gift card or, you know, iTunes gift card, or Starbucks gift card. But when you start going down to the real sort of merchandise level, I think that's really where the big opportunity for brands is to shine within the gifting commerce transaction, and for the longest time, everybody's been just solving for the add to cart. And now it's really about, well, how do we create a whole really sort of seamless, delightful customer experience when you're not adding to cart for yourself, but you're really buying for somebody else? And that's really what we're all about, helping them tap into that opportunity.

Brian: [00:41:55] That's awesome. I love it.

Phillip: [00:41:57] Wow. So hold on. Hold on. Let me repeat what I thought I just heard you say back to you.

Monika: [00:42:02] Ok. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:42:04] You're telling me that people are differently incentivized and all of our best practices around conversion rate optimization might be misguided for somebody who's purchasing for someone else? That they might be persuaded in a different way to purchase outside of our normal, you know, advice around best practice for conversion path?

Phillip: [00:42:28] Absolutely, Phil. That is absolutely right. And it's a great way to put it. That's right.

Brian: [00:42:34] And that alone was worth having you on the podcast. Let alone the rest of the conversation.

Phillip: [00:42:41] I mean, that right there blows my mind because... I'm like semi sarcastic here, but I'm actually kind of serious. Like all of our efforts really are focused at only one persona of a buyer. And in reality, if there's more than one, there can't be two. There's probably en umbers of personas of buyers. And can we truly... I think this is where the argument of personalization or the argument of merchants needing to have more intelligence in the way that they organize their shopping experiences or deliver shopping experiences to customers comes into play is because there is no one type of shopper or one experience that will cater to all shoppers in all of their needs.

Monika: [00:43:29] Yeah. And their behavior, right? And so actually shopping experiences should even be broken down into a persona based shopping experience. It's a further personalization of that e-commerce channel. And within one of them is, you know, is a gift. And the other one is maybe you're buying for someone else. The third one is just literally peer to peer shopping. So within that shopping, and it makes sense that for the longest time it's all been about just, you know, how do we create a better shopping experience? And now as that's being perfected, it's really about how do we drill down into the shopping experience and understand the metadata around i?. Right? What else is happening within the shopping journey, and why are they shopping and are they shopping for somebody else? And what does that experience look like? How do you convert that one to the highest ability that we might have?

Phillip: [00:44:18] Yeah, that's really got the gears turning. We're kind of coming up on our run of holiday seasons, at least here in North America. What does the gifting season cadence look like, and how can merchants best prepare their sites and their site experiences for that?

Monika: [00:44:36] That's right. That's right. We are absolutely coming to primetime gifting. So all retailers and brands we're talking to for everybody, gifting is on top of their mind now. It's all about what's our Q3/Q4 strategy? How do we really maximize on that, whether it's in terms of, you know, acquisition, obviously reduction in returns is a huge one right after Q4, the deluge of returns that hits everybody. So it's you know, I think it's the last two or three years have really paved the way for obviously new tech initiatives within that Q3/Q4 scenario. But what we also see is like there's an annual cadence to gifting. There is, you know, pretty much event driven gifting. And then there are occasions littered throughout the year. But going into it, it's going to be all about really just that next customer experience, that last minute customer experience, that a beautiful way of conversational gifting that I can just text it to you, sitting on my sofa. You can just decide. You can swap, across any touchpoint. It's really about, you know, how do you make it really easy for your customers to be able to buy gifts, to be able to send gifts, given also behavior patterns, or on last minute, around post shipping cut off. How can you extend that holiday season for yourself much later on, until the holiday and even after the holiday? I think 2018, for us, is... And just also the brands and the retailers we're speaking with, for everybody, it's that what is that next customer experience in gifting. How do we delight people? How do we make sure that we're making it easy and convenient for them while not taking away the thoughtfulness of it?

Brian: [00:46:25] Great recommendations. Yeah.

Phillip: [00:46:29] Well, sad.

Brian: [00:46:29] Yeah, I think you've added a lot to the conversation, and we really appreciate you coming on the show today.

Monika: [00:46:42] Thank you so much.

Brian: [00:46:43] This was fantastic.

Monika: [00:46:44] It was great to talk to you guys.

Phillip: [00:46:44] Thank you.

Brian: [00:46:44] Yeah. We'll definitely have to connect with you the next time we're out in your area. Maybe we can get another podcast in, and then I'd love to hear some more thoughts on some of those philosophical things we hit on earlier. Maybe just a good conversation. So thank you again, Monika, and for our listeners, as always, thank you for listening to the show. We love being able to talk to you every week. Looking forward to a great lineup of content in the weeks ahead. Monika leading in to some other really cool guests, as well. So, as always, please subscribe to our podcast. You can go subscribe on Apple podcast. You can subscribe on the new Google podcast app. You can find us on iHeartRadio now. You can find us pretty much anywhere you can find podcasts. You can find us. You can even say Alexa or Google, which, by the way, you don't have to say, "Hey, Google" anymore. I think you could just say, "Google." "Play the Future Commerce podcast," and we'll come on up, and we'd love to have any feedback from you that you want to provide.

Phillip: [00:47:56] True story. I've done it.

Brian: [00:47:58], leave a comment and Disqus comment box below, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can. Or or hit us up on Twitter, LinkedIn, wherever you can find us. So thanks for listening.

Brian: [00:48:08] Phillip, do you want to take us out?

Phillip: [00:48:11] Retail tech moves fast.

Brian: [00:48:13] But Future Commerce is moving faster.

Phillip: [00:48:15] Thanks for joining us. Thank you, Monika.

Brian: [00:48:16] Thanks so much.

Monika: [00:48:17] Thanks, Phil. Thanks, Brian.

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