Christmas shopping then and now: evolution of eCommerce

Advances in e-commerce mean no more mall-walking to find the perfect gift. THANK YOU, E-COMMERCE.

Technology trends and news by Faith Merino
December 24, 2013
Short URL:

I have one of those friends who likes to post foofy inspirational quotes on Facebook and Pinterest. So last year for Christmas, my other friend got one of those foofy quotes (something about letting go, being in the moment, and loving who you zzzzzzzzzzzzz) embossed on a leather wrist cuff as her gift. Brilliant!

The point of this story is that it’s the season for buying gifts for the hard-to-buy-for, but at this point in history, we have so many more gifting resources than we did 10 years ago.

For starters, there’s Facebook. Ten years ago THERE WAS NO FACEBOOK. Now, just five years after Facebook became open to all users, it has 1.19 billion monthly active users and has added gifting features like the ability to send a friend a gift card or even a physical gift for his or her birthday. More importantly, though, social media sites like Facebook give us an unprecedented glimpse into the everyday lives of friends and family. Your friend likes to dress up her Jack Russell in cute little outfits? You have your perfect gift idea, my friend. Your sister likes to go camping? Camping passes. BOOM.

And this is kind of the crux of Facebook’s role in e-commerce. While social media referrals account for just 0.7% of sales conversions (email referrals account for 3.2%), the social network has immense value when it comes to word-of-mouth. Users are more likely to go directly to a website to purchase an item, rather than wait for a friend to post a link.

For that, there’s Pinterest. When it comes to social media referrals to e-commerce sites, Facebook naturally takes the cake, if only due to its size. In Q4 2012, Facebook accounted for 62.5% of social media referrals to e-commerce sites while Pinterest accounted for 17.5%. But as of Q1 2013, that number jumped to 25% of all social media referrals, while Facebook’s share dropped to 55.2%. Pinterest order values are also larger than Facebook’s, averaging $80.54 per order, while Facebook averages $71.26.

And Pinterest represents a new direction in e-commerce. Ten years ago, e-commerce (which was really just Amazon and eBay) was all about convenience: find that hard-to-find-thing you want and have it brought right to your doorstep. But now, e-commerce is moving into a new realm: discovery. Now it’s not just about convenience but about finding that perfect home décor item that’s unique and one-of-a-kind—not something anyone can just go pick up at Pottery Barn.

For the unique and one-of-a-kind, there’s Etsy. I LOVE ETSY SO MUCH, YOU GUYS. This year, I bought ALL of my Christmas gifts on Etsy. Every. Last. One. (Except for this one relative that I really don’t like. She and her kids all got gift cards to Chili’s.) Why? Because Etsy has ushered in a new era of going back to the basics and supporting small, independent crafters and makers on a massive scale. What did we have ten years ago? Craft fairs? You want to go to a craft fair and buy a hand-painted dragon and wizard snow globe made by your neighbor who lives in a shed in his parents’ backyard? No. You don’t.

In November, Etsy sold $147.5 million worth of goods representing more than 7.4 million items, and gross merchandise sales were up 39.7% over November 2012. Because people like getting unique, interesting things.

The new surge in discovery buying has led to a mushrooming of niche e-commerce sites and marketplaces. There’s Zulily for moms and kids, This Is Why I’m Broke for quirky items and geekery, CustomMade for gifts and items you want specially tailored, and so on.

What options did we have ten years ago for things like these? We had the mall. THE. MALL. Remember mall-walking on Christmas Eve? No one wants to remember that. 

Have a Merry Christmas!


Related news