Wantful: Meet The Man Changing The Way We Give Gifts

(Photo courtesy of Wantful)

You want to buy a gift they’ll love, but gift cards are too impersonal, and tangible presents can miss the mark. Enter Offer some information about your friend’s style and a price range, choose from a collection of carefully curated gifts, and they produce a customized catalog of handsome products from which your recipient can choose. CEO and founder John Poisson spoke to Huffington about changing the way we give to each other.

How did you come up with the idea?

After my last startup was acquired, I moved to Europe for a bit to travel and reflect on what I wanted to do next. While there, I needed to buy a wedding gift for some dear friends, and despite spending a lot of time in some of the best shopping cities in the world, I realized I was struggling with what to get them. I starting thinking about how everyone struggles with gift giving at least some of the time, and riffed on my experiences living in Japan—the gift-giving culture there, the obsession with presentation—and two things became clear: giving great gifts is both about finding the right choice for someone, and presenting it with style. That resonated with me, because we have so much stress around buying gifts. Someone spends a certain amount on you, you want to buy something similarly priced for them. It has become transactional, and we’ve lost the emotional aspects, the ritual.

Why do you think it’s resonating with people?

Our customers tell us that Wantful resonates with them because it takes into account the emotional aspects of gift giving. There’s more to a Wantful gift than just getting a product. They get the surprise of the concept, then they get the pleasure of making their own selection, then they receive it and get to know more about the story behind the product. There’s a whole process to it. For the person buying the gift, it’s great because it doesn’t take long to create a really thoughtful and successful gift for someone and make it really personal. We curate our product selection very carefully, so our customer is confident they’re giving something special. One indicator of how well this works always surprises people who work in retail: Our return rates are close to zero.

How do you choose the products you’re going to feature?

As a starting point, we focus on well-designed, quality products, whatever the price point. If it’s not exceptional in some way, or if it’s the same thing you see on shelves at every store, we're going to look for something better. That’s part of what’s important in a gift: You want to give something that’s unique, and that has a story behind it. We know our customers don’t have much loyalty to the cheap and trendy thing. They’re looking for products of substance. We ask ourselves, why is this special? Why is this olive oil different? We have free rein to assort whichever products we think are worth highlighting, however specialized.

What’s the best bit of feedback you’ve heard so far?

Either in the development stage, or from customers? One piece of feedback we received when we first launched last November was that we didn't have enough products for men. Men can be so much harder to shop for than women. The options tend to be focused on really obvious things—ties, tools, gadgets—so we doubled down on sourcing unique products that break out of this mold. The heritage brands we carry have been very popular, from outdoor products to great axes from Gränsfors Bruks, a century-old Swedish company. And this was a really interesting [lesson] from our first holiday season: There was a ton of enthusiasm and great numbers through Christmas last year, but as we got past the holidays, gift redemptions were slow to start coming in. Week one went by, week two went by, and we were getting a bit nervous. And then it became clear that this was an entirely positive indicator: Gift recipients were having a hard time choosing! When we asked one woman why she hadn’t made her selection yet, she said, “Until I choose, they’re all mine.” And that possibility is part of the joy we help to create.

This story originally appeared in Huffington, in the iTunes App store.