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In pandemic Christmas, U.S. rivals aim to challenge Amazon under the tree

OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) – Walmart Inc, Best Buy Co Inc and hundreds of smaller retailers are bolstering their online gift features, hoping to challenge Amazon.com Inc’s dominance as a seller of holiday gifts to homebound shoppers.

The new services seek to take some of the drudgery out of gift-giving. The features let consumers purchase a present online and have it delivered to the recipient with, for example, the retailer handling wrapping, a personal message or a receipt that does not show the gift’s price.

Amazon’s rivals have tried to chip away at its online preeminence, spending millions to fulfill orders faster, expand product catalogs and, in some cases, provide free shipping and even subscription services. But the first holiday sales season with widespread coronavirus has drawn attention to a previously overlooked battlefront: gift giving.

Consumers flocked to Walmart and other retailers early in the pandemic when Amazon was at times slow to deliver essentials including toilet paper. Now, Amazon competitors see another opportunity to seize market share.

“This is an area of opportunity where smaller or large retailers could differentiate given most consumers will be doing their holiday shopping online this year,” said Bobby Figueroa, who worked for Amazon’s ad sales unit before founding retail analytics startup Gradient.

Walmart.com on Oct. 28 added a “gift eligible” label on hundreds of thousands of U.S. product pages, including for toilet paper, a status previously not displayed until checkout. Gift eligible means Walmart can send gift receipts as well as let shoppers customize an email greeting. It will also ship the item in its boxes, concealing manufacturer packaging.

With gift giving already up over last year, Walmart increased inventory of laptops, loungewear and exercise equipment ahead of the holidays. Shoppers can search specifically for only gift-eligible items for the first time.

BestBuy.com in mid-October added an option for gift receipts with store pickups. It also started allowing shoppers to arrange for Best Buy to email gift recipients with a festive greeting on the same day items are delivered.

Estee Lauder Companies Inc this year is using technology from startup SmartGift that added options across five of its websites for shoppers to designate cosmetics and other items as gifts while letting recipients select color, size or scent before shipping.

Americans will spend $160 billion on gifts during the current quarter, up 5% from a year ago as people put savings from skipped outings into celebrating Christmas and other year-end holidays, according to industry analyst Coresight Research.

Adobe Inc’s e-commerce software unit Magento expects Americans to ship 67% more holiday gifts than a year ago and to 18% more recipients as travel gets curbed.

But Coresight still expects Amazon.com to capture 18% of gift purchases and 7.2% of overall U.S. retail sales, up from 14% of gift purchases and 5.6% of total sales in 2019.

Amazon has maintained its dominance as the entire ecommerce industry thrives in the pandemic. Amazon’s product sales rose 32% this year through September, nearly 2-1/2 times the rate over the same period last year.

It pushed its annual sales event Prime Day to October from July as an early start to holiday shopping, and it brought forward the release of its annual guide of potential gifts to just before. The guide, which included new sections for items from small and Black-owned businesses, was Amazon’s largest ever.

The company has long provided basic gift features. It charges several dollars to gift-wrap shipments, and a free message of up to 240 characters per item can be printed on black-and-white gift receipts. A year ago, it started offering emailed gift receipts for some items.

MYSTERIOUS SENDER

But some consumers are frustrated that Amazon does not offer options others do, such as the ability to specify delivery date or gift wrap color, have recipients enter their shipping address or send gift messages by text, video and physical card.

“The gift thing on Amazon is completely broken,” said Lawrence Greenberg, 54, a financial planner in New Hope, Pennsylvania. He said he will buy elsewhere when possible after four of his gift recipients over the last three years either did not notice or receive the printed gift message. Just last month, a client puzzled for two weeks over who sent cocktail glasses until Greenberg asked.

Amazon said its gift features remain popular.

Jeff Jordan, 33, of Charlotte, shipped three Amazon purchases to himself this month, with plans to wrap and re-ship the gifts. He lost faith in Amazon last year when it wrapped a gadget for his parents in a gray plastic sleeve with a tiny gift tag and a wad of tissue paper.

Though Amazon apologized and refunded, Jordan said he “learned his lesson.”

Reporting by Paresh Dave; Additional reporting by Melissa Fares in New York and Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

Walmart Inc, Best Buy Co Inc and hundreds of smaller retailers are bolstering their online gift features, hoping to challenge Amazon.com Inc's dominance as a seller of holiday gifts to homebound shoppers.

Stylish Christmas wrapping buys to buy online – tags, paper, bags and more

Getting ahead of your Christmas to-do list and wrapping presents now? See the most stylish Christmas buys from bags to wrapping paper and ribbons. All available to buy online.

Already halfway through your Christmas shopping? Looking for Christmas wrapping paper, bags, ribbon, cards? Whether you are getting it done early this year (the only benefit of lockdown 2.0 – eh?) or, perhaps you don’t want to head to the shops and queue, then you’ve landed in just the right place. We’ve done a little bit of online Christmas shopping (not the present kind) – here’s what we are loving. From wrapping paper to greeting cards, gift tags, ribbon and even bags. Buy it online to save yourself the hassle, and get it in bulk and pay a cheaper price.

Head to our dedicated Christmas page for more advice, ideas and buys.

Christmas gift tags

Studio Pack of 20 Kraft Gift Tags | £1.29 at Studio
A bargain price for a pack of 20 gift tags, let alone ones this cute, these plain gift tags feature cutouts of Christmas trees, reindeers, snowflakes and even ‘Ho Ho Ho’. They come in brown or red, too. Perfect for those going for the minimalist vibe this year.View Deal

Favourite human XL gift tag | £2.75 at Paperchase
This super cute extra large gift tag is for an extra special someone’s Christmas present. It reads ‘Merry Christmas to my favourite human’ and comes with some red and white twine for attaching. Cute!View Deal

jijAcraft White Christmas Tags | £6.99 at Amazon
These Christmas tags come in a pack of 100 – a bargain! – and they come with 30-metres of jute string for attaching. They are made of 300 GSM paper card, and they read ‘Merry Christmas with love’.

Christmas wrapping

Star Online Heavy Duty Brown Kraft Wrapping Paper Roll | £11.99 for 6 rolls at Amazon
Going plain this year with some trusty Kraft paper? Good idea. This stuff is recyclable, affordable and heavy duty. Not just that but it looks great matched with patterned gift tags or bags! Ideal if you’ve a lot of Christmas presents to wrap, too.View Deal

Kraft white trees Christmas wrapping paper – 5m | £5 at Paperchase
This simple yet beautiful wrapping paper features white trees on it, and it’s made from 100 per cent recycled Kraft Paper. Nice and subtle and it’ll look lovely under the tree.

Bloomsbury Cranberry Gift Wrap Set | £10 at John Lewis & Partners
This handy gift wrap set from John Lewis comes with two five-metre rolls of wrapping paper, five metres of fabric ribbon, five metres of jute twine and 10 gift tags. Perfect! It’s all recyclable, too.

Greeting cards

The lazy panda card company Contemporary Christmas Cards | £9.99 at Amazon
These Christmas cards come in a pack of 48 and they are all recyclable and eco0friendly. They are A6 size when folded, and six different designs come included.View Deal

Kuuqa Greetings Cards | £9.99 £7.99 at Amazon
We love these simple greeting cards – they’re made from Kraft paper. They also come in a pack of 36 – including envelopes – and they feature a design on the back, too.View Deal

Christmas ribbon and twine

East of India ‘Merry Christmas Ribbon | £3.72 at Amazon
We love this Christmas ribbon – so much so that we are going to decorate our gifts with it this year. It comes in a three-metre roll, and it would look great wrapped around Kraft paper. View Deal

jijAcraft Christmas String | £5.99 at Amazon
A cheap price to pay for 100 metres of twine, this one is Christmas-coloured – white, red and green – and it’s ideal for decorating presents or attaching tags. You can buy it in bulk, too.View Deal

Christmas gift bags

Tinksky Christmas Bags | £18.99 at Amazon
Grab this pack of 24 gift bags now – in three sizes and several designs – and gift your presents in bags this year. They’re also made from Kraft paper so they are recyclable, and they’re great for kids, too.View Deal

Medium Landscape Classic Christmas Gift Bag | £1.29 at The Card Factory
Yes, The Card Factory deliver! And this Christmas bag is super cute – it will fit quite a few small presents inside, too. It comes with a ribbon handle, and a tag, too!View Deal

Getting ahead of your Christmas to-do list and wrapping presents now? See the most stylish Christmas buys from bags to wrapping paper and ribbons. All available to buy online…