Facebook gift by John Bell

Facebook, Amazon and Others Push Socially Enabled Gifts


Originally posted on The Digital Influence Mapping Project with John Bell

My sister’s birthday is on December 27th – every year. Since childhood, she has been shortchanged with relatives doubling up her holiday gifts as her birthday gifts. Sometimes people even forget in the post-holiday stupor. The net takeaway for all these years is clearly fewer gifts than for those of us with neatly spaced August birthdays.

This year, thanks to Facebook’s new gift-giving functionality, I made sure my sister got something nice and on time.

Facebook, Amazon and a few third party services like Giftivo, are connecting gift-buying and sending to social data in our graph to make it easier than ever to buy a terrestrial gift (or digital gift like music or books) and get it to those celebrating their birthday. All services leverage your Facebook friend database and are therefore built on a common premise.

Three Key Improvements

 Mail order gift-giving and even digital ordering of such have existed for years.  I have been reading about disruptive business innovations in this month’s HBR. I am not sure this new gift-giving functionality by itself has risen to ‘disruptive status’. But there are three qualities to it that make it compelling.

1. Managing the stream of birthdays:   I can barely track my family birthdays. Every year, remembering my mom or dad’s birthday becomes “a thing.” Forget about the next concentric ring of close friends. Now, Facebook alerts me on my page, sends me an email, and publishes those birthdays on my Mac calendar function. That last innovation – the connection to my core calendar has been a godsend. Diabolically, I am now emotionally tied to Facebook as I reap the benefits of being a good birthday-wisher.

The second most important management function? When I gift, it pings my sister for her address which she then inputs to get the gift sent to her. Like birthdays, I cannot seem to track people’s terrestrial addresses. Yes, I could get my hands on it if push-came-to-shove, but it would entail awkward steps like writing the address down on a piece of paper to move it from one database to a web form.

2. Amazon/Facebook-like simplicity: I always associated simple ecommerce functions with Amazon. They are the touchstone of all things wonderful in ecommerce. Now, Facebook is catching up in simplicity. Clearly their years of interface design, trial and error and commitment to a “facebook-standards” model where use cases are handled with common interface procedures is paying off. The whole transaction was short and painless.

3. Amplification: While Facebook asked permission, I did choose to publish the fact that I got sis a gift via her wall. First off, she is notified immediately by whatever Facebook alerts she has enabled that I got her something. So, the mere fact that I bought her something is no spoiler. The post did not, of course, pull a “Beacon” and reveal what I bought her. But now, others in my family know that I acknowledged her birthday and perhaps they ought to get off their duffs and do the same.

Ideally, the system would ask her for her feedback on the gift and prompt her to post that mini-review on her wall. Once that functionality is there, brands will so love this part of the social commerce virtuous circle.

The Devil is in the Details

Social Commerce made the point of wondering why Facebook allows others like Amazon and Giftivo to deliver the same basic functionality. I suppose that it is possible that Facebook might shut them down from doing this but since apps have been using our Facebook friend lists for years, I am not sure how feasible this is.

The spoils may go to those who get it right or get it best. And while Amazon is a clear favorite, I got lost in their interface to make this happen. Here’s a few things anyone delivering this type of socially connected commerce ought to get right:

Simple interface and process – This is new territory. No one wants to wonder halfway through whether the gift they just bought will end up shipping to themselves vs. the recipient (That was my Amazon confusion).

Great gift selection – Facebook admittedly has a limited selection of typical giftees in their collection. Amazon has the power of the endless store (as long and wide as the Amazon) and they have the power of the Wish lists that members have established. That should give them a clear advantage.

Relevant gift selection – Giftivo sorts through a user’s Facebook interests to assemble a set of gift recommendations. It’s the right idea but all services suffer from a lack of transparency on what exactly is driving their recommendations. Until we get used to these systems, we could use all benefit from some better translation of what drive a recommendation. Pandora tells me why they are playing an artist by connecting the dots to one of my selected artists. Amazon tells you, generally, why they put certain recommendations forward.

Social feedback – Most times, I just want to know that whomever I got a gift for received it. I want to know they loved it but I know pushing for that type of outcome can be dangerous (because we might have blown it and gotten something they don’t want). Still, it only makes sense that this type of gift-oriented buying become more and more socially enabled. My sister should be able to post a quick ‘thanks for the gift’ or a product review or even add me to her list of future gift-recipients.

What’s in it for Brands

  • Sponsoring holiday gift giving: Victoria’s Secret brings you Valentines Day (better than the amorphous MasterCard sponsorship of the current function)
  • Special gift collections: The Godiva chocolate store for Mom’s Day
  • Personalized stores: The John Bell Store from Amazon featuring the eclectic collection of independent films, Todd McFarlane-like action figures, classic punk and more…
  • Targeted post/ads reminding individuals of upcoming birthdays (and the product prompts that match)
  • Apply gift model to spontaneous, for-me buying: When Hugo Boss finally has teh black jeans I live in for sale, they should ping me and give the chance to stock up from wherever I am including Facebook