How Well Do E-Tailers Handle Gift Giving?

A Customer Experience Framework and Customer Experience Test Drives

August 12, 2009

During almost 20 years of mapping purchasing scenarios, the customers are clear about the gift-giving features they want on e-tailing sites, including recommendations, gift receipts, and in-time delivery. We evaluate five sites:,,,, and, against these criteria. How well does your e-tailing site support gift giving.


What are best practices among online retailers to support gift giving? All over the world, Web teams are tuning their sites in preparation for the 2009 holiday season. Everyone wants a larger share of consumers’ thinner wallets. Our research shows that if you can streamline customers’ critical scenarios—e.g., giving a gift for a special occasion or buying holiday gifts for friends and family—you are three times more likely to get consumers’ business.

What’s required to provide a great gift-giving experience? We offer a framework of critical features that customers have come to expect. We pinpoint the two most customer-critical features that are “must haves.”

How do retailers stack up against our gift-giving framework? We tested five retailers’ sites:,,,, and a less well-known shopping site, You can use this framework to do your own test drive.


For the almost 20 years we’ve been mapping Customer Scenarios with clients, we’ve noticed recurring patterns of customer experience expectations. For example, within almost all consumer retail scenarios, requirements for gift-giving capabilities arise; and they are always very similar. Notice that we describe this scenario as “gift giving,” not “gift buying.” A true Customer Scenario includes the outcome that the customer cares about; in this case, “my friend/family member/colleague loved the gift (so I look good!).”

In this report, we have consolidated the most common customer requests for gift-giving functionality. These customer expectations provide a customer experience framework describing customers’ desired online gift-giving experience.


To test our framework, we have done test drives of five different sites where gifting is common:

  •—because they have set the standard in gifting options
  •—because that’s what it does
  •—because men are notoriously hard to shop for, and Lowe’s has a majority of male customers
  • (a 1-800-Flowers company)—because we wanted to include a site for children’s toys, and the 1-800-Flowers parentage is significant because it is almost entirely about giving gifts
  •—a relatively small site for buying and selling print-on-demand products, because the site offers an unexpected gift-giving feature called “gift this cart”


The desired gift-giving features that have shown up in multiple customer scenario maps include:

  • Gift recommendation—what criteria can be used
  • Product ratings and reviews
  • Access to wish lists
  • Gift registries
  • Gift certificate/gift card options
  • Gift wrap
  • Gift message
  • Gift receipts
  • Split orders
  • In-time delivery options
  • Gift return/exchange
  • Gift-giving history

GIFT RECOMMENDATIONS. When evaluating recommendations, we will look at what criteria can be used. Criteria should include gender, age, interests, price, and top-selling gifts. In our opinion, the more criteria upon which you can base your selection, the better, and the more likely that you will have a short list of desired results.

PRODUCT RATINGS AND REVIEWS. Gift givers want to see what other customers thought of recommended products.

ACCESS TO WISH LISTS. This includes both the ability to create a wish list for yourself (or someone else, such as your child), to send that wish list to others (or let them know you have a wish list on a particular site), and to access the wish lists of others whom you know have a wish list with that e-tailer.

GIFT REGISTRIES. Can you create/access a registry for an upcoming wedding, a baby shower, or other occasion?

GIFT CARDS/GIFT CERTIFICATES. Here, we are looking for the different options available with gift cards, such as the ability to pick a design (or create a design), pick any denomination, schedule delivery, delivery options (email, fax, snail mail, or print out at home to give in person), and shipping charges (there should be none). Other capabilities include the ability to use the cards at partner sites.

GIFT WRAP. Features include cost, selection of wrapping paper, and whether all gifts can be wrapped.

GIFT MESSAGES. Can you include a free gift message?

GIFT RECEIPTS. Virtually all customers want to be able to send a gift receipt (with no prices listed) with gifts, which can be used for exchanges or returns.

SPLIT ORDERS. Can orders be split between gifts and non-gifts? Sent to multiple gift recipients? Multiple recipient locations?

IN-TIME DELIVERY OPTIONS. Does the site let you know the day the gift will be delivered? Can you select gifts based on delivery dates? Does the site warn you if delivery may not be on time? Can you schedule delivery for the future (e.g., a birthday in two months)? Can you be notified that the gift has been delivered? Can you track the shipment?

GIFT RETURN/EXCHANGE. Not only do customers want gift recipients to be able to return or exchange gifts easily, but they also want them to be able to return them without the giver knowing about it. (The givers took their recipient’s point of view when they requested that ability in the scenarios. They knew that no one wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings.)

GIFT-GIVING HISTORY MAINTAINED. Desired features include a list of gifts you have given to each recipient throughout the years, the ability to create a profile for each recipient (which can be used as criteria for recommendations), and the ability to create profiles for people to whom gifts have not been sent yet.

Gift-Giving Moments of Truth

Of all these capabilities, two emerged as moments of truth—showstoppers, where, if not available, customers will abandon you—according to the scenarios we have mapped with customers:

  • In-Time Delivery Options. The moment of truth is: “I can’t get the gift there in time” or “I can’t tell whether or not it will arrive on time.”
  • Gift Receipts. The moment of truth is: “I don’t want them to see how much I paid.”


Making It Easy to Give Gifts has made an art out of gift giving. Well known for its recommendations, the site offers equally impressive gift history and recipient profiling capabilities.

However, there were a few surprising limitations—the most serious being...

Amazon Gift Recommendations

Amazon Gift Recommendations

© 2009 and Patricia Seybold Group

Illustration 1. Although offers dozens of criteria upon which to receive recommendations, you cannot search on multiple criteria, such as age, relationship, and price.

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