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BrandSutra: Of holiday sales and the gifting quandary

11:47 PM Oct 17, 2021 | Sandeep Bangia

The month of October is the big birthday month in our household - my elder daughter’s birthday is on October 15, followed by the birthday of my younger twin girls on October 19. While their excitement reaches its pinnacle in the run-up to D-day, my anxiety of buying them a suitable, thoughtful and relevant gift also peaks alongside. As a parent, I can’t go wrong on any of these attributes. This is when they start dropping subtle or sometimes not-so-subtle hints on what they would like for their birthdays, or so I feel! This is different from the time when we used to be kids. My sister and I had limited demands, and not so towering expectations. A decent T-shirt, a new fountain pen or even a blank audio cassette (in which I could record the music of my choice) used to do the trick. But in today’s world of plentiful options, deciding on a gift is quite stressful. Even on normal days, when they want to buy something, the girls browse through the Amazon, Flipkart or Tata Cliq sites, decide what they want, put it in the shopping cart and just ask me to pay. The pressure of ejecting the items from the cart (without buying them, of course) is humongous! Besides, October always has festive sales by the e-commerce biggies – the Great Indian Festival or Big Billion Days are just so beguiling!

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My elder one had been admiring my Apple Smartwatch of late, which I thought was my cue. I then got online to look for smartwatches. The shopping apps home page (I have the three major ones, viz. Amazon, Flipkart, and Tata Cliq) were full of irresistible offers. While this is an oversimplification, the ‘personalized’ pages of these apps normally consider the following:

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Profile: Based on details like contact number, address (a surrogate for income levels), past purchase data, what you have searched, etc. Advanced data science helps them build a fairly accurate profile of you. This profile along with collaborative filtering (method of making automatic predictions about the interests of a user by collecting preferences or taste information from multiple users) serves sharp recommendations of products. These appear directly and in the form of suggestions like ‘goes well with’ or ‘people who bought xxx also bought yyy’ and such. Mostly, these recommendations are spot on and actually aid the purchase process.

Sense of urgency to affect the sale: Heavy promotions on digital, television and even outdoors create an enticement like no other. The festive season as a trigger for purchase is there and you get on to the app… and once there, you are done. Digital marketing geniuses have figured out ways to get you sucked into this vicious and commercial quagmire of inviting offers, discounts and flash deals. The countdown timer will tell how soon the discounted price will vanish. This brings about a sense of urgency; so much so that the user feels that the end of the planet is upon her. There is precise A/B testing to get the UI optimised such that you find yourself drifting within online retailers' zone of influence without you even realising it. The process almost hypnotically leads you smoothly from one product category to the other and you unwittingly push newer products into the shopping cart. At the end of it all, you land up buying things which you may not even need. If for some reason, you don’t complete the purchase, notifications like ‘The product xxx which you were eyeing is now available at a 40% discount’ and such appear. To add to the urgency, all the portals align their sales’ on the same days - so if you miss those days, you miss them all.

WHAT AM I PICKING?

No wonder that e-commerce sales have shot through the roof, and we might see the highest ever sales this festive season of close to $10 billion owing to the country’s nearly 780 million Internet users currently. And what’s COVID!

I waded through the click-bait minefield to meaningfully research the smartwatches and trackers of all kinds. There were those ranging from Rs 6,000 all the way to Rs 40,000.

But finally, my middle-class sensibilities got the better of me and I bought her a rose gold diamond bracelet from Tanishq. It cost me more the any watch-cum-tracker, but I am glad I bought it, as this is more an investment than an electronic device which may get outdated by her next birthday.

I have been a strong advocate for online sales for the convenience and transparency of pricing it offers and use it quite extensively. But this time, I had a narrow escape from the clutches of the ‘Never before online sales’. As the popular meme goes, ‘For 100% savings from online sales,’ stay away from the online retailers’ apps!

Was she happy? From the way she was flaunting it to her friends, I can say yes! What am I gifting my twins – it’s a surprise and I am not telling. This article gets published a day before their birthday.

(The author is a senior professional in the corporate sector and writes on varied topics that catch his fancy. The views expressed here are his own.)

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