11/15/2013 08:34 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Ways You Can Digitally Find and Buy Gifts

Online shopping and buying has evolved far beyond the standard page load, click and buy method. Shopping is digitalizing and online options for buying and gifting provide more customization than ever before. It's already fun, and it's already arguably addictive, but now online shopping and buying platforms are being digitally designed and deployed with you, the consumer, in mind.

Emerging online shopping platforms do more than just make shopping attractive to the casual consumer; they give you the tools to get what you actually want, rather than what the online retailer wants you to buy. These online platforms, ranging from websites affiliated with smartphone apps to pretty picture-filled social shopping sites, are consumer-facing and consumer-focused. Instead of upselling you, they actually help you by providing the information and digital capabilities needed to shop smarter and make more informed buying decisions.

Digital Shopping Meets Holiday Retail

With retailers already feeding you holiday 'leaked' deals and online promotions like it's your last meal, most of us are bound to approaching gifting from the online dimension this year. There's plenty of holiday hype, or so-called 'consumer advocacy' talk, circling the web that provides mind-numbingly repetitive advice about where, when and what to buy online. But it's the 'how' you buy - the how you use the internet and digital technologies - that can actually determine the where, when and what you end up purchasing.

In need of a gift idea? How about importing your existing Facebook 'Likes' and browsing products you already 'Like' by brand? Want to get the right size shirt for your mother-in-law? Avoid insulting her with a 'just in case' size that's too big, and instead use an existing picture to create a 3- dimensional virtual dressing room avatar. Yes, it is that easy. With these technologies, holiday shopping doesn't have to become a Griswold-style gifting disaster. Rather you can technology to help you give gifts that you're actually proud to call presents.

Smart shoppers are using online technology to shop better, pure and simple. But you don't need a computer degree navigate the online shopping world. Digital shopping platforms simply help make discovering products easier and buying the right product much more feasible. Give up the gifting guessing game once and for all, and instead try venturing into online shopping with the help of new digital platforms to find, try and buy products.

5 Ways To Digitally Find and Buy Gifts

1. Participate In Recommerce
Rather than trading in to trade up, we are increasingly shopping from used product sites, without necessarily selling first. Online recommerce, the re-discovery of products for purchase via electronic means, has been a widespread medium of commerce since launched, but now it's evolving into a niche method of online buying where we go to find 'cool' new products, not just cheap used goods.

These aren't sites that make you feel like you've landed at the online version of a shabby trade center. New recommerce sites are designed much more like a Pinterest-style shopping site than eBay. They tote stunning product pictures and add an essence of luxury into the shopping experience. With a new school-meets-old-school-twist, these platforms successfully enable stress-free selling and buying of used items.

A leading recommerce site, Threadflip, offers a White Glove Service to seamless selling and buying. Acting as a re-seller the company sends you, the seller, a shipping label and upon receiving your items, will professionally photograph, price and sell them on the site, returning to you 60% of profits from the sale. Alternatively, you can buy items on Thereadflip that are slightly used, and have been professionally photographed and priced. As a Threadflip shopper, you essentially get the best of both worlds: thrift store prices within an elegant, pretty picture shopping platform.


The Threadflip White Glove Service recommerce process

2. Shop With An Avatar
One of the most challenging aspects of online shopping has always surrounded the buying items without first trying them. Much like shopping from a catalog, online shopping doesn't allow you to touch and try items, in the same way as in-store shopping. To solve the problem, retailers have turned to technology. There are a host of virtual try it then buy it fitting room services, such as Virtusize and, working with retailers, each competing to become the leading online shopping virtual try-on aid.

Until one rises to the top, you can now shop with virtual avatar-enabled sites. QVIT enables you to create an avatar to use as your online shopping companion. The technology creates a precise replica of your body and allows you to virtually try on clothes from different angles such as 'Mirror Image', 'Straightforward Reflection', as if you were looking in the mirror of a dressing room, and 'Transparency,' a see- through view showing how closely or loosely items lay on your body. You can also view items in the 'Heat Map' view, which shows how tightly an item is on the body using heat coloring in which red coloring means extremely tight and blue means there is more than one inch between the item and the body.


Step 3 in the QVIT avatar creation process helps you create a custom avatar for shopping

3. Discovery Shop and Buy From Your Social Media Feeds
You're not 'wasting' time on Facebook, when you're 'discovery' shopping. Facebook, Pinterest and Google can all be your new shopping ally when you use what you see as inspiration and can actually buy the items. A simple trick to do so uses Google Image Search. Simply head to Google images search page and drag any picture from a social media site into the browser bar. Google will return results that identify a 'best guess' for what the name of the product is, similar pictures, and search engine results of various websites you can buy the item, down to the exact product page. Once you have identified the item in Google, you can go through the various webpage results or just click over to the shopping tab to buy direct.

Alternatively you can shop and buy from pre-made product lists based on your Facebook feed. Glimpse by The Find is a Facebook app, website, and tablet and smartphone app that creates a Pinterest-style shopping experience based on your Facebook newsfeed. Simply connect your Facebook account, and you'll see all items you have 'Liked' on Facebook along with all the items your friends have 'Liked'. Items are arranged by how many people like have liked the item or how close they are to your network.


The custom Glimpse feed allows for product discovery via your Facebook 'Likes'

Each time you visit Glimpse you'll see a custom social shopping newsfeed based on real-time likes. Each newsfeed item displays product picture and name, price, retailer, total number of likes and friends who have liked the product. As you mouse over each item you can customize your Gimplse product newsfeed by clicking on a minus symbol to see less of that product category, such as remote control, or retailer. If you like what you see, you can click on individual product pictures for more details, including a link to buy, or individually add items to custom Glimpse Catalogs to be later used as wish lists.

4. Virtually, and Socially, Pick Up the Check
With new online platforms and apps you can send food and drinks at your favorite restaurants as gifts via Facebook. Like the social media-version of a restaurant gift certificate, social gifting platforms enable gift giving online through social media. The existing social gifting space is filled with participatory companies including Stockholm-based Wrapp and Google-backed Gyft, but up until now they have approached gifting from the price-defined gift certificate angle.

Now you can purchase individual menu items, ranging from a beer on tap to the seafood platter, to send as gifts with Gratafy. Gifting with Grafity is done much like how you would browse Seamless, or any online delivery service menu. Instead of buying for pick-up or delivery, you choose and purchase menu items from select as gifts and send them to your Facebook friends. You can add a tip prior to checkout and notify recipients of their gift via phone, email and Facebook post. The newly-launched platform is currently restricted to Los Angeles, CA and Seattle, WA but has plans to expand.


Gratafy gift options at Costal Kitchen in Seattle, Washington

5. Shop and Buy Quora-Style
Quora is widely known in the online world as an expansive collection of user-curated of questions and answer pages hosting research and knowledge of unique topics from around the web. Unfortunately products and promotions have never been applicable to the platform. As an alternative, new online platforms have applied the so-called Quora-model to shopping.

Website and app, Yabbly is essentially a Quora for shopping platform that features consumer advice in the form of questions, answers and list, rather than reviews. The site features product lists, product news, individual user profiles and a product feed with buying capabilities. Product pages don't just include user comments; they include all site feeds - questions, responses, news, user lists, tags- that are relevant to the product.


The Yabbly homepage closely resembles, but focuses on product information from real-time users

Yabbly's site search is uniquely crafted for shoppers. To search for product information you simply type in the name of the product you are looking for and a word associated with 'what the product is good for' such as a 'mouse' good for 'gaming'. Rather than regular product reviews and standard information you could find searching the web, Yabbly provides a one-stop-shop of organically-derived product information for consumers.

The end result is an organically curated hub of information that surrounding each individual product on the site you make buying decisions on individual products, somewhat you're your modern-day search engine results infused with all relevant Facebook pages, product tweets and Amazon user comments.