Gifting Trends
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What We Learned About Online Gifting in 2022: Zest Unwrapped

January 9, 2023
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If ecommerce was a person, they’d be really into brunch, get excited from conversations about stationery, and still be chipping away at student loans. In other words, this retail trend is now a 30-something millennial.

In 1992, Book Stacks Unlimited launched as the first online book marketplace. Not only was this a pretty sweet evolution for book lovers, but it was the beginning of online shopping that today’s typical consumer can’t live without. Shoppers daring enough to try buying stuff online decades ago haven’t just been buying books since then. These early adopters have also been buying gifts. 

A screenshot of the original Book Stacks Unlimited website. It's very gray, pixelated, and outdated.
A grainy walk down memory lane (and a reminder of how far ecommerce has come).

Early gifters navigated archaic product pages and web browsers to find rare titles and perfect presents. They’ve been the ones scrolling through Amazon to buy PalmPilots and BlackBerry phones for birthdays and Christmases. They were there for the invention of e-gift cards and have been figuring out their own gift delivery logistics for years. 

From the earliest days of ecommerce, shoppers have been buying gifts online—and the industry is finally getting a bit of much-needed attention. Today, gifting is booming, and Zest was started to finally make it an enjoyable and easy experience for gifters and giftees who’ve been making do for 30 years. 

And by being a leader in gifting tech, we have a front row seat to all the happenings. Much like the earliest ecommerce names from the ‘90s—PayPal, Amazon, Alibaba—Zest is pushing the envelope for where gifting can go. One way to keep evolving is to take a look at where it’s been.

In 2022, some big predictions were made about gifting. Forecasts about Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the whole Q4 gang had been hammered out. And now that the holidays are gone and 2023 has just begun, let’s take a look back to see how these predictions panned out and what that means for online brands in the year ahead. 

Ready to unwrap last year’s gifting picture? Let’s go. 

A Look Back at 2022 Holiday Predictions

Let’s take a quick glance at some of the leading gifting predictions for 2022’s holiday season. 

For the past decade, the average online retail sales growth during the months of November and December has been 4.9%. The 2021 holiday season obliterated that average by posting a 13.5% increase in holiday spending, and while 2022’s forecast wasn’t as bold, it was still above average.

The National Retail Federation forecasted that holiday retail sales would see a year-over-year increase between 6% and 8%. However, the NRF also predicted that online (and other non-store sales) would see an increase between 10% and 12%, or somewhere between $262.8 billion and $267.6 billion. Adobe, in contrast, predicted just 2.5% growth in online sales during November and December. 

A bar graph showing the growth of holiday sales in billions from $416.4 in 2002 to $960.4 in 2022.
Holiday sales forecast for 2022 by the National Retail Federation.

Despite other economic factors such as inflation, rising costs for essentials, and a wobbly job market, the general sentiment around holiday sales was slightly more positive than negative. Aside from dollars spent, Forbes predicted a few more trends that would take hold in 2022, such as:

  • A stretched out shopping season.
  • More online shopping.
  • Humans, not bots, running customer service. 
  • Experiences as important as products.

So, what actually happened?

Well, in a nutshell, shoppers spent almost $212 billion online in November and December 2022. This was a “new ecommerce record” despite holiday sales starting as early as October, a looming recession, inflation, and supply chain issues.

In 2020, there were 25 days when holiday spending surpassed $3 billion. In 2022, there were 38 days that crossed that same threshold. Online sales saw a 10.6% YoY boost, and all signs reaffirm NRF’s very optimistic predictions. 

This figure is up from…last year, which saw extraordinary growth in digital channels as consumers turned to online shopping to meet their holiday needs during the pandemic.

— National Retail Federation

A massive 196.7 million US consumers shopped between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday—which is about 17 million more compared with 2021. However, it was found that fewer people shopped in-store in 2022, which is good news for ecommerce (and troubling news for brands that haven’t cracked the code to bridging brick-and-mortar with their online presence yet). 

The View from Zest: Unwrapping Ecommerce Gifting

As a best-in-class gifting platform, we’re knee-deep in ecommerce gifting day in and day out. We felt excited (and honored) to have a front-row seat to the latest holiday season’s gifting action. Here’s a snapshot of what we saw.

Cyber Week didn’t see the most gifting action.

As a reminder, in ecommerce lingo, Cyber Week is the span of time from Thanksgiving to the following Monday. This group of days includes Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday—ya know, all the shopping days historically known as the period when people drop the most dough buying holiday gifts.

However, in 2022, Zest users told a different story. While Black Friday did see a lot of gifting, it’s no surprise that Cyber Monday saw a 64% increase in ecommerce gifting. Zest is an online gifting platform that's a natural fit for this online shopping day. However, it still wasn’t the giftingest day we saw.

December 12 saw the most gifts sent or scheduled using Zest, while the whole week of December 11 through 17 saw the most gifting throughout the holiday shopping season. (If you want to get more granular, most gifts were ordered between noon and 3 PM. We know what you're doing during your lunch break. 👀)

The most popular gifts were a mix of classically loved and surprisingly new categories.

The most gifted goods through Zest included classically popular gifts and some new players in the gifting arena. When it came to group or corporate gifting, the most popular gifts included thoughtfully curated gift boxes, a variety of meats, and artisanal chocolate

For personal gifting, hand-crafted chocolate still proved popular while olive oil, clothing, meat, and kitchen tools also claimed top spots.

The human touch proved important with Zesters. 

One of Zest’s most loved features is personalized gift messages. With each gift sent, gifters are able to write their own thoughtful message sent as a digital greeting card. It’s what gift recipients see right before they dive into digitally unwrapping their present, and it sets the tone for the delightful and memorable moment.

This valuable point in the customer journey aligns with Forbes prediction about customer support overall—human connection is invaluable to the customer experience. Especially during the holidays, we're all craving a pathway to connection. Injecting a human touch throughout any path to conversion is critical for any online brand hoping to scale today.

What Have We Learned About Gifting? 

The fourth quarter of 2022 was Zest’s inaugural holiday shopping season. Our ability to see a broader picture when it comes to ecommerce gifting is helpful and stokes curiosity around when, why, and how modern shoppers are gifting. When comparing what we now know with predictions preceding the holiday boom, here’s what we learned.

Forecasts aren’t facts.

Many online brands have very limited insight into gifting’s impact on their bottom line. Unless a customer is purchasing a gift card online, there’s no certain way for a retailer to know if a purchase is on its way to being a great gift. Because of this, many stores rely on forecasts for their own planning.

Brands may base their inventory, marketing materials, and promotions on predictions around when people are shopping, what they’re shopping for, and how much they’re spending. Judged on what we know about the 2022 holiday season, forecasts are simply best guesses and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Despite a relatively bleak outlook given the current economy, consumers showed up and spent a lot both in-store and online. This reality could have negatively impacted brands that simply didn’t stock up. If brands had a more reliable way to see how gifting impacts their unique business and audience, they’d be able to fine tune their gifting plans instead of having to rely on broad market predictions. 

People procrastinate, especially around the holidays.

While many predictions cited an expanded holiday shopping season, the story we saw unfold went a little differently. Many foresaw a holiday shopping season starting in October (or even as early as September). This means more months of sales, discounts, and a little more breathing room (hopefully) for fulfillment.

While increases in YoY sales throughout September and October were definitely seen, one thing was clear to us: People still procrastinate.

Oftentimes, brands see their sales slowly crescendo to their peak during Cyber Week. In 2022, Zest saw gift sales spike across brands in mid-December. During the week of Dec 11 through 17, gift sales were nearly 60% higher than the week before. Another surprising trend was that gift sales were still impressive during the week leading right up to Christmas Eve. 

Zest’s bread and butter is its ability to send same-day, last-minute gifts complete with a delightful digital unwrapping experience. So, it makes sense that we would see an uptick in urgent gifting so close to the holidays. However, this also is proof that many shoppers don’t complete their holiday shopping right away, no matter how early the season starts. 

Make your marketing stretch.

Related to procrastination, your store’s marketing should be adjusted to speak to everyone still purchasing presents up to (and after) Christmas. Not only are there many big gifting holidays happening through Q4 besides Christmas, but your late-season messaging is the perfect way to attract shoppers who still have a lot left to buy on their gift list. 

A screenshot of an email subject line that reads "It's never too late to send an e-gift!"
Vosges Haut-Chocolat capturing more last-minute gift sales with this subject line and email.
A marketing email telling customer about last-minute digital gifting for Vosges Haut-Chocolat.

Many brands wrap up their holiday marketing as soon as their shipping cutoff date comes around, but that doesn’t mean consumers have completed their shopping. Especially when using a gifting platform that can send an instant gift and deliver a memorable customer experience, you can stretch your marketing calendar to go all the way through New Years. 

Thoughtful gifts are hot stuff. 

Remember the story of the dawn of ecommerce from the very beginning of this post? The biggest gift-specific innovation since then has been digital gift cards. These are convenient e-cards that can also be gifted instantly. So, why didn’t all of these late-season shoppers simply send gift cards to everyone left on their list?

Gift cards aren’t about to disappear, but we are seeing a major shift in sentiment around them. They’re convenient and flexible, but they’re also inherently impersonal and forgettable. Gifters don’t want to come off as cold when gifting a gift card, yet they’re still seeking a way to send a gift in the most convenient way possible.

Zest empowers brands to offer instant, convenient gifting to shoppers so they can feel good about what they’re gifting. Instead of just another gift card, they get to give a thoughtful gift from an even more thoughtful brand.

The Zest gift experience comes complete with customizable gift notes, flexible digital delivery options, interactive gift unwrapping, and gift tracking for both gifter and recipient. It’s an easy and accessible gifting option that leaves literally everyone feeling good. 

Three screenshots in a row of personalized gift messages sent via Zest.
Three real-life holiday messages sent by three very thoughtful folks.

Gifting in 2023 Is Looking Merry and Bright

Predictions. Forecasts. Crystal balls. Wherever the pundits are pulling their data from, one thing we can all count on by now is that ecommerce gifting is going to continue to grow in 2023. With new insights, we can take what we learned and be better prepared to grow through gifting in the year ahead.

With easier, more accessible ways to send gifts with Zest, gifting can expand beyond a Q4 phenomenon and become a staple in year round consumer trends. Even though gifts have been bought online since the ‘90s, 2023 is going to be a year stuffed with the gifting innovation we’ve all been craving.

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Liz Lorge
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