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Click to unwrap: More retailers are letting customers send digital gifts this holiday season

Lauren Zumbach, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

Prices also can change by the time the recipient opens the gift, especially during the promotion-heavy holiday season, and policies vary by retailer.

If the gift goes on sale after the giver purchases it, the recipient will get a credit for the difference at Target and Athleta, while Neiman Marcus says it will refund the giver. If the price goes up post-purchase, Nordstrom says the recipient can choose to cover the difference, or accept a gift card for the amount the giver initially paid, while other retailers say they will let the recipient claim the gift without paying more.

Liz Ladner, 57, of Western Springs, who recently bought her daughter a digital gift at Oakbrook Center's Athleta store, considered it a "win-win." "I get to personalize it, and if she changes her mind, she has that option," Ladner said.

But Lynn Hare, 54, of Oak Brook, was skeptical when told the gift would be unveiled to its recipient as an image on a smartphone or laptop. "Eew. That's not nice," Hare said. "That's like something a college boyfriend does."

E-gifts should help stores reduce returns since most people do a better job picking out items for themselves than other people, said Bobby Stephens, a senior manager in consultancy Deloitte Digital's retail practice. Some retailers limit the items available for e-gifting, suggesting it could be used to nudge customers to relatively high-margin products or away from those that are selling out, he said.

"I think it's a holiday wish for retailers that it will catch on," Stephens said.

 

A new version of the GiftNow service being tested in 10 Athleta stores this holiday season, including one at Oakbrook Center, lets customers who buy an e-gift take home a square purple card. When the recipient unwraps the card and visits the website address on the back, the selected gift is shown.

Store manager Lisa Stasch said she could see it being popular with customers who don't want to risk guessing wrong. "I believe it will be a big sell for men, especially as it gets closer to the holidays," she said.

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