“There have been several attempts at this in the past, but none of them have been super successful,” said William Rand, director of the Center for Complexity in Business at the University of Maryland. “This is the first year we’re seeing a concerted effort to pitch social gifting.”
“F-Commerce,” as the Facebook marketplace is sometimes known, has grown 9 percent in the past four months, according to British online research firm eDigitalResearch. That survey also found that 12 percent of people have been encouraged to make a purchase through Facebook. Even brick-and-mortar giant Wal-Mart has entered the mix with Shopycat, an app from Wal-Mart Labs that recommends gifts for users’ Facebook friends based on past likes or shares. Similarly, traditional e-commerce sites are now going social: In September, eBay bought the Israeli group-giving platform The Gifts Project, and Amazon and Etsy now too have Facebook-powered gift recommendation apps.
“This is the natural iteration of the Facebook platform,” said Asher Epstein, managing director at the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, also at the University of Maryland. “There’s enough information about us out there on social networks that people should never be getting anything as a gift that they don’t want.”
How it works
These applications tend to take one of a few general formats. The first are sites like Givvy and the just-launched GiftSimple, which essentially function like curated gift registries on Facebook. For example, Givvy allows users to not only create wish lists for themselves, it encourages people to suggest gift ideas and categorizes them into genres of recipients. (A vinyl-record fruit bowl for your hipster roommate, perhaps?)
“What I like best is the uniqueness of the gifts,” Vaziri said. As someone who buys dozens of gifts each year, “I run out of ideas sometimes. This makes it easy.”
Then there are recommendation engines, like Present Bee and Give ‘Em This, that suggest gifts based on your Facebook and Twitter contacts’ interests and likes. Give ‘Em This operates on technology built by ImplyLabs, an algorithm developer that analyzes social media “updates, events, likes and bios to find clues that are translated into gift ideas for you to buy from Amazon.”