Tapping Into the Gift Market

Want strong sales all year? Use your site to tap into the gift market.
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This story appears in the July 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
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Naturally, the year-end holiday season is a boon to e-tailers. But what about the rest of the year? Your customers purchase gifts year-round-and designing your site to appeal to gift buyers at all times will invite sales.

Believe it or not, consumers buy the majority of gifts outside the peak November-December holiday period. According to the November 2005 white paper "Gift Services: Year-Round Retention Tools" from The E-tailing Group Inc., the typical gift-giver spends just 40 percent of his or her annual $2,062 gifting budget at Christmas.

So how do you appeal to these gift buyers? You can start by making it easy for customers to purchase gifts. Add a gift suggestion section to your site (and keep it updated), offer a gift registry service, sell gift certificates and gift cards or messages, and offer gift wrap.

Walrus Brands, which was founded in 2000 by Gregory Lilien and Ryan Saunders, both 28, found success by expanding its gifting services. The Chicago business, which expects sales of $8 million this year, sells branded merchandise and operates several e-tail sites including InternationalRobes.com, a seller of quality robes, towels, slippers and soaps.

The site went live in early 2004, and before the busy holiday season that year, the business added a simple gift suggestion section to the site. "We noticed many visitors were clicking on the gift section during the holiday period, but we also noticed minispikes during holidays such as Valentine's Day and Mother's Day," says Lilien. "That's when we realized we should build a bigger gift section that addresses all gift-giving occasions."

So last year the company added more categories tied to specific holidays and occasions, including Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and weddings. Within each category, gifts are listed by gender and demographic. Today, 15 percent of the 10,000 to 15,000 people who visit InternationalRobes.com each month click through from the gift section.

Thinking of implementing or improving your gift strategy? Lilien suggests limiting the number of categories. Having many categories might seem like a good way to give customers choices, but remember: "Everything in moderation," says Lilien. It's also a good idea to start small. "The more gift options you have, the better," Lilien continues. "But developing a basic gift section on your site is a nice way to start." You can always add to it later.

Edition: July 2017

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