An emotional shopping experience helping people find the perfect gift.
I worked at PurePresents as a UX designer helping to launch and refine lovlee, a new brand for carefully selected and lovingly packed gifts. I worked on the continuous improvement of the e-commerce website as well as the general product offering and company strategy. My biggest contribution was to develop an understanding of the target group and how people give in general. Together with a user researcher, I worked continuously on getting a better understanding of our customers and making everybody's work more user centered in the process.
PurePresents is an e-commerce startup in the space of gift shopping. With the support of market leader Blume 2000, they set out to create an online shop and mobile app to sell beautiful, carefully selected gifts with a lovely packaging. When I joined the team in the beginning of 2017, I was the only UX designer and worked together with a user researcher as part of the product management team.
Why people make gifts
Humans make gifts to each other since centuries, yet we rarely ask ourselves why we actually do that. As children, our parents try to teach us that giving something to someone without expecting anything in return is a good thing to do. I don't know about you, but when I was a kid, I thought that getting a gift is a lot better than giving. Looking at the science behind that, it turns out I was wrong.
Jordan Grafman, a cognitive neuroscientist, put volunteers in an fMRI machine to find out what happens in the brain when we make a gift. He asked them to donate money to charities and gathered data about which brain systems where most active during the process. As it turns out, the reward and pleasure system is highly active when we make a gift, releasing dopamine, a chemical messenger that makes us feel good. What was really interesting though, was the finding that there is more dopamine released when making a gift than when we receive one. So there is scientific proof that giving is in fact better than receiving.
From an evolutionary point-of-view, there might even be an explanation for that: Many animals use some sort of small gift to attract a mate and quite often, the animal that is the most generous with its giving wins in the end. The same could have been the case with our ancestors, where the more generous males had a higher chance of reproduction by attracting females more successfully, thus passing on the genes that made them more generous. So, you could say that giving is part of our DNA.
Today, gifting is—above all else—used to manage relationships. We make gifts to express our gratitude and to show somebody that we value them.
Different types of givers
We quickly learned that people are very different when it comes to giving. Trying to group and order the findings from our first research, it became clear that a noticeable difference in how people make gifts is whether they are more focused on the occasion or on the relationship.
For some, the occasion is the main driver when looking for a gift. The need to get a gift arises because of the occasion, often because people with this mindset perceive it as a necessity to make a gift (for example, when it's Christmas, you're expected to give a present to certain people in your social circles and family). As such, these people usually use the occasion as the sole starting point when looking for gifts. If there is none, they also usually do not give spontaneously. It's important to note that even though giving can easily feel like "work" for people with this mindset, they still enjoy actually giving something to somebody else. It's just that quite often, they lack ideas for a gift, time to deal with getting one and can thus feel stressed in the process.
On the other end of the spectrum are people who use giving as a way to nurture their relationships. While the occasion can still be the starting point, it does not have to be involved at all. These people make gifts without an occasion regularly—for them, it's a way to give attention to somebody important to them and show the other person how important they are. For people with this mindset, giving becomes some kind of creative challenge. They always look for the perfect gift, something that lives up to the relationship they have with the recipient. Buying a "standard" gift like a gift certificate is not an option for this group of people.
These two mindsets are the opposite endpoints of the scale and most people fall somewhere in between the two. Further research also showed that people switch mindsets depending on the recipient as well as their own motivation. After taking a closer look at what motivates people to make a gift, we came up with a second axis for our classification diagram: "I" vs. "We".
People with the "I" motivation tend to focus more on expressing themselves and their personality with a gift. They select a gift based on their own style and preferences more than on those of the recipient. When somebody makes a gift to express their own status or to get something more tangible as a result (like a promotion, attention or a favor), they are in this mindset. On the other side, somebody is in the "We" mindset when focusing on the preferences of the recipient and the relationship they have with them.
Again, nobody has the same, fixed mindset all the time. Most people tend towards one extreme over the other, but the different gifting mindsets also depend on the situation. Naturally, people have different problems with gifting depending on the mindsets they are in.
Problems with gifting
While working on specifying our target group by creating personas, it became clear that some groups are not interesting for us for various reasons. One example are people who see giving as some sort of chore. They do not like to do it, but they feel that in some cases, they just have to. Thus, they buy less gifts per year than the average person which makes them less interesting from a business perspective.
Another segment that we could quickly disregard consists of people who are really into giving, but would not buy a premade gift. This group is very creative and passionate when it comes to giving and as such, many problems that exist for other groups are not relevant for this one. They are willing to invest quite a lot of time and energy to get the perfect gift.
However, there is a pretty big group that does like to make gifts, but has some serious issues with giving that have not been addressed properly yet by existing solutions. The number one pain point is—by far—to actually get a good idea for a gift. This seems to be the most important problem for a pretty big group of people and we decided to focus on that.
Our target group
The people in our target group are mostly female and 25-35 years old. They make gifts more often than the average person, mainly because they like to give outside of the traditional occasions like birthdays and Christmas. They also buy the majority of their gifts online. By far the biggest challenge for them is generating ideas and there does not seem to be a good solution yet. They ask the recipient about their wishes and they also ask the recipient's friends and family for ideas. They also search the internet by googling for gifts and gift ideas as well as searching directly at Amazon. Strolling through the city and searching the local shops is also still relevant when it comes to inspiration.
Re-thinking mobile e-commerce
The biggest problem our target audience has when it comes to giving is simple: It is difficult to find something that fits their needs. With that in mind, we asked ourselves: What can we do to help our target group find ideas for their next gift?
We continued by trying to figure out how our users find inspiration for a gift as of now. One research method we used to take a closer look into this was a diary study. From the participants of this study we learned that while inspiration can come in many different ways, one mobile app was mentioned more often than any other thing: Instagram.
It's probably not a big surprise that a target group of young adults is using Instagram every day. What's interesting is the bigger picture: Our target group uses Instagram for all kinds of inspiration, including what to buy as a gift. They also get inspired by reading magazines or offline shopping. They do not, however, seem to find inspiration for gifts in online shops.
While further discussing the findings, I asked myself: If Instagram works so well for inspiring people and our target group uses a mobile device more often than a desktop anyway, wouldn't it be a good idea to learn from Instagram? Putting it in another way, maybe the "traditional" way of designing a (mobile) e-commerce offering was not going to work and we should think about a different approach.
Out of that, a concept was born that ditches the traditional approach to mobile shopping and imitates the principles behind Instagram instead. The main idea behind this concept was to focus on the main insights we have about how our target group looks for a gift:
- If they look for a gift for a traditional occasion like Christmas, they want to filter for specifics very early in the user journey. And while the occasion sets the stage, it's the recipient and what they know about him or her that drives the search.
- Outside of those traditional occasions, people appreciate more guidance along the way and tend to use a more explorative approach, if possible.
Our users are mainly using a smartphone and they find inspiration for gifts on Instagram. The "traditional" approach of building an online-shop with product categories, landing pages, a blog and other forms of content to inspire users does not seem to work well for a mobile-focused target group. It would make much more sense to start with something that emphasizes discovery and inspiration on mobile.
- Products front and center. Users want to see products as early as possible and on mobile, that simply means to show products, nothing else.
- Less text unless the user really needs it. Nobody reads category description texts, so why show them in the first place?
- Less overall clutter. If you have beautiful products and it's important for users to see the product clearly, do not compromise on screen space when it comes to displaying products.
- Provide filter options as early in the journey as possible—that means on the home page (gift finder element).
- Have one place for regularly changing content and adopt it to the mobile world: That's stories.
- Familiar interface that was not scaled down from a desktop design but instead designed for mobile as the main channel.
I did a few internal tests with a high-fidelity prototype and they worked out very well. After that, I started to think about how we could adapt the whole thing to our desktop experience and incorporate the learnings there as well to keep a consistent experience across different devices. Ultimately, we would switch from scaling down the desktop experience to mobile to scaling up the mobile experience to desktop.
Unfortunately, during the phase of planning the first iteration for external testing with our target group, our investor decided to change course and close the startup, transferring the learnings and other assets to the mother company. Thus, this concept and the prototype I created out of it never went into production but we could still provide valuable insights that will influence the development of future projects.