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A Gift for Better Business

For awards and personalization professionals, there exist some universal truths—the proud smile of an award recipient will always be contagious; the pickiest clients are always the likeliest to have a low-resolution photo. But if you subscribe to the well-known notion that cooler weather and the coming of fall are the official markers of the giftgiving season, you’re likely missing out on the potential benefits focusing on gifts year-round can have for your business.

A Gift for Better Business

IMPROVE YOUR YEAR-ROUND GIFT SALES BY THINKING OUTSIDE OF THE HOLIDAYS

By Danielle Leber

(Originally published in the September/October 2021 issue of Insights.)

For awards and personalization professionals, there exist some universal truths—the proud smile of an award recipient will always be contagious; the pickiest clients are always the likeliest to have a low-resolution photo. But if you subscribe to the well-known notion that cooler weather and the coming of fall are the official markers of the giftgiving season, you’re likely missing out on the potential benefits focusing on gifts year-round can have for your business.

Whether they’re practical items for happy housewarmings or monogrammed gifts for elated grads, presents are a perfect option for personalization no matter the season— you just need a plan of attack. To get you started, we spoke with three successful companies about their gift sales, and they had no shortage of pearls (or presents!) to share about boosting your bottom line with gifts year-round.

GIVE BACK

Another universal truth known to awards and personalization professionals is that an excellent customer experience is the best marketing—but fewer realize the benefits of building a marketing strategy around taking their can-do attitudes and positive people skills to the streets and social media.

“Our greatest marketing success has been through authentic community involvement,” said Shana Kayne Beach, owner and project lead at Chase Street Accessories & Engraving, which was voted the place for “Baltimore’s Best Gifts” in a reader survey by The Baltimore Sun.“We look for opportunities to sponsor local events with an in-kind trade, such as providing the swag bag or awards for the event.”

For example, Chase Street A&E provided gifts, medals, and awards to the virtual Baltimore Children’s Fair in 2020 and recently provided giveaways for the first post-pandemic inperson gathering hosted by the company’s local Chamber of Commerce.

“In exchange, we were given speaking time at the event, which resulted in multiple strong sales leads,” Beach said. “This type of marketing is time-consuming, but it’s inexpensive, productive, and allows us the opportunity to give back at the same time. I think it’s because of this approach that we were so successful in The Baltimore Sun’s ‘Best of Baltimore’ reader’s choice poll. Our name recognition and credibility gets stronger every day, even though our business is only a couple years old.”

 

Photo courtesy of Chase Street Accessories & Engraving

Amanda Gianotti, president of Allogram, Inc., shares this philosophy, citing genuine engagement as the primary focus of her company’s social media strategy—and an important and necessary step, even when posts can’t necessarily be correlated directly with sales.

“We don’t see a correlation between marketing and sales, per se. We approach marketing as maintaining community awareness; we want to be top of mind,” she said.

Many retailers may start off strong with their social media strategy and then start to let it slide when they don’t see an immediate return on their posts, ad words campaigns, and other marketing. But when it comes to building a booming gift business, ensuring your shop is known for excellent personalized presents is the most important step—and the second most important is consistency of messaging.

The average customer is likely well aware of the winter holidays, but they’re less likely to consider the many other gifts given throughout the year. That’s where the savvy retailer can not only provide reminders about under-theradar gift giving opportunities but further develop their local relationships, said Keith Pettengill, vice president of sales for Creative Gifts International.

“People always think about Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Mother’s Day, but there are things happening all year round that they don’t think about, like teachers’ gifts,” he said. “Go to your local colleges to see what you can do with college logos. Ask different civic groups what’s going on in your area. Think about things like your town’s 100th anniversary.”

Particularly this year, customers have more to consider than ever. Help them stay ahead of the occasion—and informed about your offerings and policies—by not only reminding them about upcoming events but sending the message more than once.

 

Photo courtesy of Creative Gifts International

“We try to get about 6 weeks in front of the holiday or event that we’re promoting and we do direct email to our customer base and our prospects,” Gianotti said. “For instance, for Mother’s Day, we would start the end of March and say, ‘Hey, don’t forget Mom; Mother’s Day is coming’ and show a couple of pictures of products. Then a couple weeks later, another reminder, there’s still time to order, and then the week before, place your orders by whatever the date is for the cutoff. We do get replies, and it does generate conversation.”

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS

To stay at the top of gift-givers’ shopping lists, you also need to know what the most popular presents are—but everyone we interviewed agreed that to find those ideas, you likely don’t have to look outside your own home.

“We have noticed an uptick in popularity in housewares and home goods, things for the kitchen, wood carving boards and pizza boards, glass jars,” Pettengill said. “For a long time, people went with disposable items, but now they’re spending more time in their houses, and they’re going back to getting nicer glassware and homewares.”

Gianotti also recommends that retailers not overlook the unique home décor items awards and personalization professionals can offer, such as acrylic blocks with fullcolor UV printing, and items that may be trending because of their association with pop culture, like chess sets (which experienced an uptick in popularity after the hit Netflix show The Queen’s Gambit premiered).

Housewares often have a higher-end appearance and greater perceived value than other presents, making them perfect for two of the biggest categories for gifts this year: weddings and corporate giving.

“We’ve had lots of wedding gifts and wedding party favors lately because a lot of parties were delayed over the last year and were just not being held,” Beach said. “For corporate and organizational customers, everyone’s spinning up the trade show circuit again. We’ve created a lot of small gifts, like personalized bottle openers, for our business clients to hand out during events.”

Photo courtesy of Creative Gifts International

As the world continues to face workforce issues, companies also are leaning hard into giftgiving as a strategy for employee recognition and retention.

THINK INSIDE THE BOX

Corporations and far-fetched wedding destinations also present unique opportunities to upsell to customers by offering complementary items to enhance the gift experience.

“Instead of just shipping an award or item, we suggest customers make a party in a box,” Gianotti said. “They can provide the items that we’ll put in the box, or we’ll offer other personalized things, whether it be a mouse pad or a pen or a tumbler. We’ve had customers bring us champagne splits and then we did engraved champagne flutes. We’ve had people bring Godiva chocolates, another did a wine and cheese theme where they provided wine and cheese and crackers. It’s just that upsell opportunity to sell more of your products and offer that upgrade.”

Gianotti also cites an easy solution to a common problem: shipping issues. Rather than stress over ensuring each box arrives at its individual destination at the exact right time, create stickers stressing that recipients don’t open their packages until a specific time and date. This can help calm corporate customers who want recipients to experience opening their boxes at the same time, such as during a virtual all-company meeting, while eliminating the stress of checking dozens of tracking links.

However, there is a greater shipping issue that has plagued retailers since the start of COVID—inability to get stock in a timely fashion and to get products to customers by promised deadlines. But a little extra customer service, even if delivered via email, may help soothe customers’ frustrations and keep them coming back.

“We’ve already lost or delayed a couple orders due to supply chain issues,” Beach said. “Last holiday season, many of the orders we sent out were lost in transit for months, resulting in many upset customers. We found the best way to respond to this was to offer a personalized email/note to the giftee letting them know that the buyer had purchased something custom-made that was delayed, but on its way.”

She also noted that they’re “much more vigilant about the USPS scanning processes” now, and plan to use alterative shipping options like UPS and FedEx and set earlier deadlines for orders placed during busy periods, like graduation or the holidays, to help mitigate delivery issues.

Gianotti also suggests adjusting your sales strategy to prioritize items you have in stock—and ensuring you’re diligent about your inventory management—can help ensure you’re not delaying customers. It’s not about never selling an item you don’t have in stock, she said, but changing the perspective to “think first of selling what you have instead of automatically entering an order without checking if something is available.”

Whether it’s by incorporating more items from popular television programs into your stock or engaging with your community to encourage better brand recognition, implementing a product strategy that incorporates yearround gifting can help ensure more consistent sales and keep you top of mind with customers.

Optimize Your Online Store for Gift Sales

1. Present personalized products.
Gianotti notes that customers often focus on the final product— rather than the personalization potential—of items when shopping, so it’s important to give them examples of how the blank will look once it’s been updated with their own design or artwork.

“Seeing that graphic makes a difference to buyers when they’re searching for a product,” she said. “They might want your product, but if it’s not shown the way they want it, they’re not going to buy it.”

2. Try to consider your customer’s questions and be transparent about the answers.
This includes showcasing the product in use and providing as much information about it as possible in the store, Pettengill said. “We try to consider, as consumers, what would we ask about this product? Then we want to make sure all of that information is in the detail descriptions.”

Including transparent, clear, and easily accessible information about pricing also helps motivate customers to head to checkout and builds trust in your brand, encouraging more repeat business.

3. Don’t overlook the importance of small details.
When it comes to ensuring your site looks professional and credible—important considerations for online shoppers—the details, including things like image sizes, matter, Beach said.

“The biggest thing I notice when looking at competitors’ sites is inconsistent image ratios, which can look amateurish. Use a service that will automatically resize those photos for you!”

Check your site to ensure product descriptions are consistent and correct; images are appropriately sized and showcase the personalization potential of your products; and your checkout process, shipping policies, and other details are consistent across every page.

4. Test your links and checkout process.
The easiest way to lose an online sale is by building (or not noticing!) barriers between the customer and the purchase. To ensure you’re aware of and can fix any issues customers may experience before finalizing their order, test your online ordering process regularly. This includes ensuring there are no confusing steps or screens during the order process, checking links throughout your store to verify that they lead where they should, and ensuring any order notifications or followup communications are clear, concise, and error free.

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