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5 Steps to planning the perfect holiday gift guide

a red rectangle with a bow around it like a present

We all know that the holiday season is a busy and stressful time for consumers. The pressure to select the perfect gift for family and friends causes many consumers to turn to the web for research into the best gifting ideas and trends. According to Google, 66% of all holiday shopping that took place last season was planned and researched before the purchase took place. 

This is where holiday gift guides are an ecommerce brand’s best tool to redirect some of this purposeful search traffic towards your own website. In fact, 45% of consumers reported searching out holiday gift guides to inform their purchasing decisions during 2020.

In this post, we’re going to cover the 5 steps to creating the perfect holiday gift guide for your brand this festive season – and why your business should make the effort.

3 Reasons to launch a holiday gift guide

1. Capture both early-season and last-minute shoppers

We often joke that it feels like the holiday season is getting earlier and earlier each year – and that’s because it is. 39% of consumers say they’re starting their holiday shopping earlier this year to ensure timely delivery (49%) and to avoid stockouts (47%) thanks to ongoing supply chain challenges caused by the pandemic.

But this doesn’t mean that the holiday laggards have disappeared. Last year, 79% of consumers did all of their holiday shopping in the two weeks leading up to Christmas – while 44% left it to the week before.

If you play your cards right, a holiday gift guide enables you to drive engagement from both of these segments. Be sure to distribute your gift guide early in the season – and to add a ‘last-minute gifts’ edition for the harried shopper!

2. Experience-based spending is returning, but products are still sought after

We’ve heard a lot about the return of experience-based spending – travel, dining, leisure – as the pandemic lessens its grip. Experience spending is up 15% in 2020 and is set to account for more than a third of holiday spending this year. 

But this doesn’t mean that product gifting is on its way down. Overall spending is forecast to increase across categories, with 45% of households planning to spend the same or more on holiday gifts than last year. 
The most popular gift categories for 2021, according to Statista.

a graph of the most popular gift categories for 2021

In sum, consumers are still looking for guidance on what to buy for their loved ones this year – and a gift guide is a perfect way to turn your brand into a source of inspiration.

3. Spotlight the products you want to push this holiday season

Is excess inventory piling up? Are sales of a certain collection starting to plateau? Holiday gift guides provide the perfect answer to these common woes. 

Why? Because they offer a clever way for brands to reposition the value proposition of different products. Gift guides allow you to curate items in ways that address specific target audiences or common pain points – something that can be difficult to do elsewhere in the year. 

How to plan a holiday gift guide

Putting together a holiday gift guide from scratch can feel like an overwhelming task. Here are a few steps to reduce stress and create a smooth planning experience:

1. Decide how to categorize your gift guide

Before you start picking out products to feature in your gift guide, hold fire; while it’s tempting to dive right in, it’s important to decide on an organizing theme – or themes – for your guide. 

This is because the true value of a holiday gift guide isn’t the products within, but how they’re curated to give consumers clarity and inspiration. Throwing together a random bunch of products comes off as chaotic and confusing – and definitely won’t make your customer’s holiday shopping any easier.

Instead, zero on exactly which demographics, interests, or shopping behaviors your holiday gift guide is trying to target. The more focused your gift guide is, the more valuable it’s going to be for those shoppers. 

Depending on the breadth of your product catalog, it may be a good idea to launch multiple gift guides in different categories so you can target multiple consumer segments. Below are some common categories you can use to organize your holiday gift guide:

By demographic

Categories such as age and gender are good ways of organizing holiday gift guides because they enable shoppers to quickly find appropriate product collections. They also provide a useful starting point for people who aren’t sure what they’re looking for and need a bit of inspiration to kickstart their shopping journey.

Anthropologie has created a ‘Gift by Recipient’ section that uses a variety of demographic indicators, such as gender (‘Gifts for Her’) age (‘Gifts for Kids & Babies), and even occupation (Gifts for Teachers’):

screenshot of anthropolgie’s gifts for him page

By product type

If you’re a retailer that stocks products in multiple categories, organizing your holiday gift guide by product type helps shoppers with a certain category in mind to easily find what they’re looking for. Common categories include beauty, accessories, confectionary, and children’s toys. By grouping these together, you can cut out considerable browsing time for shoppers and create some excellent bundling opportunities.

screenshot of the kitchen companion’s page on the david jones website

David Jones department store has created a ‘Kitchen Companions’ page in their gift guide which includes a variety of products, from kitchen accessories to crockery and foodstuffs. Their guide also covers a wide price range, enabling customers to find something that fits within their budget.

By price

Unsurprisingly, price is one of the biggest determining factors when customers are searching for holiday gifts. Most consumers have a budget they need to stick to, so designing a holiday gift guide around this helps to guide shoppers towards appropriate products that they’re likely to purchase.

screenshot from cost plus world market’s website showing gifts under 15 dollars, under 25 dollars and under 50 dollars.

Cost Plus World Market has kept it simple by arranging its gift guide into three pricing categories – gifts under $15, $25, and $50. This makes it easy for shoppers to find gifts that fall within their price range and minimize shopping cart abandonment.

By theme

Thematic holiday gift guides take an idea and use that as the organizing focus for the guide. Themes could include interests, shopping behavior, or causes. This typically brings together a bigger variety of gift options across product categories and price ranges. 

One of the biggest advantages of thematic gift guides is that brands can make them as broad or as narrow as they like, depending on what they’re selling. 

For example, Nordstrom curated a ‘last-minute gifts’ guide on social media that it released four days before Christmas in 2020. This enabled them to target those less organized with relevant product offers across a range of product categories.

instagram post from nordstrom about the best last-minute gifts

Theme-driven gift guides also give you plenty of room to get creative with your product selections. Pottery Barn has added a ‘gifts that give back’ section to their website which includes items where a portion of the proceeds are donated to charity, as well as the option to buy a donation to a charity as a gift on someone else’s behalf:

screenshot of pottery barn website showing charitable gifts

By popularity

Creating a gift guide of your bestselling items is a safe bet because these products already have a proven track record with your customers. Moreover, it’s a form of social proof that gives your customers more confidence that an item is an excellent gifting idea. After all, the more popular a product is, the more desirable it becomes.

Etsy has created best-seller gift guides across multiple categories to assist customers who are struggling to choose the right gift:

screenshot of etsy site showing most popular gifts

2. Analyze your sales data

Looking at historical sales trends to your first step to figuring which products are likely to perform well during the holiday season. But it’s important to take note of both high-performing and under-performing products at your store. 

For example, if a certain product isn’t selling well, there could be an opportunity to boost its appeal by giving it a spotlight or bundling it with a more successful product. You could also consider using it as a gift with purchase for other items which are in your gift guide.

If you’re buying seasonal inventory specifically for the holiday season, you need to do some research on what the intended audience of your gift guide will be interested in. What sorts of products are proving to be popular? Are there any overarching trends that are informing purchasing decisions this year? By knowing this, you can select items for your holiday gift guide that are going to resonate with customers.

3. Ask your customers what they’re interested in

Sales data gives you a lot of insight into what’s likely to sell during the holiday season. But you shouldn’t limit your research just to quarterly figures. There’s one source of information that’s more valuable than any other: Your customers. 

Asking your customers for their opinion on different products and bundling selections will give you a good sense of whether these will be a good fit for your holiday gift guide. For example, you could post a poll on social media asking customers what product from your range they would prefer to receive as a gift. 

Or, if you’re launching new products as part of your gift guide, giving a little teaser on social media is a great way to drum up some excitement in advance of your guide’s release.

instagram post from glossier asking customers what they think about one of their products

This Instagram post by Glossier is asking customers for their favorite combos of Cloud Paint blush, one of the brand’s most popular products. It’s a clever customer survey strategy that enables Glossier to learn more about how customers are using their product – and get some inspiration for future product bundles!

4. Consider how your gift guide selections could encourage repeat business

A truly successful holiday gift guide isn’t one that only drives purchases during the holiday season but pushes beyond to offer customers incentives to shop year-round. 

It’s important to remember that gift shopping involves two different parties: The person buying the gift, and the person receiving it. While you might have secured a conversion for the former, this doesn’t guarantee that the gift recipient is going to shop with your brand in the future.

In sum, you need to provide some low-hanging fruit to tempt gift recipients to check out your brand for themselves. Otherwise, this is a massive missed opportunity to add more long-term, loyal shoppers to your customer base.

Sephora has looked beyond the holiday season by including discounts and free product redemption with its holiday product bundles. Their Perfume Discovery Collection sets up future sales opportunities by including a ‘scent certificate’ which can be redeemed on a travel-size version of the recipient’s favorite perfume in the set. Bringing them online or into a physical store for that redemption boosts the odds of them buying other items, thus increasing conversion rates.

sephora checkout page showing the option to pick up their purchase in store instead of having it delivered

5. Put together a fulfillment plan for SKUs included in your gift guide 

When putting together a gift guide, you can’t only about how likely is product is to sell; you also need to make sure that you have enough units to fulfill those orders.

Because spotlighting a product in a gift guide helps to boost sales, you need to ensure a good supply of that SKU to meet demand. If items in your gift guide sell out very quickly, this is going to annoy customers and result in lost sales. So, if you have products that you can’t guarantee a steady supply for over the holiday season, it’s not the best idea to put them in your gift guide. 

Once you’ve decided on what products are going to be in your guide, you’ll need to think about the best way to handle the fulfillment of those orders. 

It’s quite likely that customers will be buying multiple items featured in your gift guide. To speed up the picking process, it’s a good idea to store these SKUs in the same area of your warehouse. If you have physical storefronts, the same applies to how you organize your stockroom.

When products are selling quickly, it’s important to make sure that your ecommerce platform is properly synced with your inventory management system. Otherwise, you could end up selling units that you no longer have in stock, resulting in disappointed customers who require refunds. 

Planning the perfect holiday gift guide isn’t just about choosing trending or best-selling products; it’s also about ensuring that you curate your gift guide in a way that streamlines the shopping journey and positions your brand as the most convenient option for shoppers during the holiday season. 

Most of all, your brand needs to tailor the appropriate fulfillment strategy to ensure that you fulfill those online orders in the fast, hassle-free way that your customers expect. By following these tips, you can create an engaging holiday gift guide that boosts conversions and fosters customer loyalty.

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