Shift in Gift-Giving Culture Speaks to Changes in Digital Commerce

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The tradition of giving gifts to loved ones to mark special occasions has been entrenched in global cultures for centuries. But the way we go about finding, buying, and exchanging such presents has undergone a radical transformation in recent years thanks to the proliferation of technology.  

Today, the majority of people in our society have access to some form of smartphone, tablet or laptop, the use of which has reshaped many aspects of our daily lives. This extends to the way we search for, and purchase, presents for friends and family. 

At the heart of this is the rise of online shopping. While previous generations would take to their local shops or markets to find the perfect gifts, today the process is infinitely simpler thanks to online retail giants like Amazon. At the click of a button, Internet users can purchase a present to be sent directly to their (or, even better, the recipient’s) door. Indeed, this is how the majority of people appear to be approaching gift giving today; approximately three quarters of consumers in the UK say they now buy more than half of their Christmas presents online. 

This will hardly come as surprise. However, underlying the rise of online and mobile shopping is a far more interesting cultural shift in the way we think about the act of ‘gift giving.’

In search of convenience

Technology has dramatically altered people’s expectations when it comes to the ease and speed at which tasks can be completed; convenience is now king. 

Rather than trawling through bricks and mortar retail stores, users of ecommerce websites can now shop for virtually every item under the sun from the comfort of their own sofa. What’s more, they can complete a purchase in minutes and expect it to arrive to their front door the next day. 

The demand for ease and convenience from the modern consumer is something we’ve personally witnessed at WhatWeWant – and apps and online platforms like this are opening up countless opportunities for shoppers to simplify the process from start to finish. 

The rise and influence of social media 

The rise of social media has been instrumental to the cultural shift currently taking place in the gift-giving space. Indeed, platforms like Facebook and Instagram naturally facilitate gift exchanges, as they allow users to build up strong networks of close connections. 

In 2018, Facebook published a paper exploring the increasingly common trend of “digital gift exchanges” — the act of sending an individual a digital gift, whether it be a charitable donation to the recipient’s chosen cause or a gift voucher. 

What it found was that those who received a gift online would typically return the favor in the same way; when a person received a gift on Facebook for their birthday, they were then 56% more likely to also give a gift through the platform. Interestingly, this digital practice also appears to be becoming a more mainstream option. About half the time, these online gift exchanges were a replacement for offline gifts. Gift giving is, evidently, becoming intertwined with the social apps and websites we use in everyday life. 

In the grander scheme of things, social media is having a direct impact on how we search for and find interesting gifts and experiences. Whether this is though targeted ads specific to users’ profiles, or organic promotion by connections sharing their latest purchases and experiences, our daily scrolling through social media feeds means we’re constantly exposed to new ideas for upcoming special occasions. 

The experiential gift and what it means for our gift-giving culture

One key trend underpinning the growing transition to the digital space is the demand for experiences over physical gifts. To offer an illustrative example, during the 2018 Christmas season the UK spent approximately £1.6 billion on experience gifts. Meanwhile, half (52%) of consumers said they would rather pay for a good experience than spend on material possessions.

That’s not to say that gift cards and vouchers are a new phenomenon, because they’re not. In fact, they’ve been around for a long time. But this trend does show that technology is increasingly being used as a tool to locate these interesting and quirky experiences to share with loved ones — whether that means tickets to an upcoming gig or golf lessons. 

What’s more, such gifts are notably more expensive than the odd book or piece of jewelry. Fortunately, technology has come up with an answer to this issue, too; online and mobile technologies now enable people to come together and pool their funds to purchase an experience that their loved ones would enjoy over a material possession. 

When it comes to the long-term benefits of this trend, there’s almost too many to count. Most important of all, however, is the long-term value of experiential gifts, which encourage people to create memories and share new experiences. At the same time, it helps to reduce the number of unwanted presents that are traded every year – not only is this bad for the environment (think of all the wasted plastic packaging and CO2 due to transported another unwanted pair of socks), but it also represents sunken costs that would be better off spent elsewhere. 

As the culture of gift giving continues to adapt to modern technologies, we are sure to see the rise of innovative new ways to improve convenience and ensure people can share gifts that will bring joy to their loved ones. 

WhatWeWant (WWW) is a crowdfunding app that acts as the ultimate, easy-to-use gifting solution. Users can conveniently upload any gift they wish to receive from anywhere, the app will automatically notify friends and family by inviting them to contribute to the gift, once the target has been reached the user can withdraw their money and simply get What They Want.