Quick: how many unspent gift cards do you have festering in your wallet (or other places) right now? If you say more than one, you're not alone. Although they are becoming more popular as presents, especially for people who have no clue what the recipient would want, many of them go unused - between 8 and 10 percent, by some counts. Now a new service, Lottay.com, aims to solve the "give what they want, get what you want" dilemma by providing online wish lists and the ability to give cash toward gifts using PayPal.
On Lottay, you can create a wish or wish list, give a gift, and invite and browse friends' wishes. You can share your wish list via social networking sites Facebook and Twitter, or send via email. And, according to Lottay CEO Harry Lin, the service does not have the downsides of gift cards - no fees, expiration dates, merchant restrictions, or risk of losing it.
Gifting via PayPal
While you need a PayPal account to actually send money on Lottay, you don't need one to create wish lists, to share your wishes, or to suggest gifts to others. (If you're going to send a gift on Lottay and do not yet have a PayPal account, you will be presented with the opportunity to create one). "The transaction is safe and secure because we're built on PayPal's platform," says Lin, adding, "It's also free - no fees."
Gifts can be actual merchandise or amounts of cash, which you pay via your PayPal account. You can choose from images of gift boxes to virtually "package" your gift, or upload your own image; you are then routed to a co-branded Lottay and PayPal page to actually send the money. Lin said, "The Lottay gift includes an e-greeting card, a private message, images and pictures, even comments like a message board. But the gift is money. Perfect for every occasion."
Lottay does not make anything off of the PayPal transaction and has no plans to. The company's revenue model is mainly through affiliate fees off of merchant transactions. Lin said, "We're not currently displaying those merchant links, but we will soon." When a recipient opens their Lottay gift, they'll see, for example, "Julia, you've received $50 toward your ski boots!" and a few choice links to e-retailers to shop for those ski boots. Lin says they also plan to experiment with targeted advertising to augment the revenue stream.
Integration with Facebook and Twitter
Lottay's integration with ecommerce sites includes providing stock images of products and associated prices from matching etailers when creating your own wish or wish list, if such data exists. For my first wish, I typed in "Kindle" and had several images to choose from. (In my case, I had to enter the price manually, but I did have several images from which to choose).
After saving your wish, you have the option to share the list via Facebook, Twitter or email. With my second wish, I went ahead and opted to try sharing via Facebook; here it is nice that Lottay lets you "filter friends," so you don't have to spam your entire Facebook friend list with your material cravings. In fact, I only let one friend in on my secret urge for an Edge champagne flute from Crate & Barrel. (Nothing is posted, streamed or notified on Facebook via Lottay unless you choose to do so).
Dealing with the Greed Factor
The social media integration is practical, but some may worry they are appearing grabby by putting their wishes out there. Lin, however, simply sees it solving the long-suffering problems of the gift-giving process: "Wishers definitely don't want to appear greedy, but like everyone, they want to get what they really want; no re-gifting or hiding bad presents in the basement!"
And he notes, "These same wishers want to know what their friends want - because giving the right gift makes your recipient Very Happy, and that makes you Very Happy. So it becomes an "If you show me yours, I'll show you mine" communication. That solves two age-old gift problems at once: one, figuring out what to get people; and two, telling people what they should get you."
More social media integration is in the works, with likely new features in the coming months including single sign-on (allows users to sign in to Lottay using their Facebook, GMail, Yahoo, AOL, MySpace, or Twitter accounts), as well as improved "Group Gifting" (more control on how to organize and collect a group gift).
Battling the Cash Gift Stigma
According to Lin, former General Manager at evite.com, "We want to change the experience and stigma around giving cash as a gift. During these challenging economic times, money is the best gift you could give someone...but you don't want to stuff a personal check into a greeting card and hand that over. Lottay's online gift service is perfectly suited for giving cash without the stigma or embarrassment: "Dear Jane, here's $50 toward yoga lessons because, girl, you deserve it!" And Jane uses her fifty bucks to buy groceries or pay the utility bill. I gave her what she really needed without taking away her dignity."
Lin isn't a big fan of the "virtual gift" - an image of a cupcake, say, or a pretend mug of beer slid down the Facebook bar to you. "When you send a virtual gift, you paid real money for something that doesn't exist except as pixels on a screen. That's not very satisfying, especially for the recipient." With Lottay, "Your online gift isn't a jpeg of a sandwich. You're not saddled with a gift card that you'll lose or will expire." You get, well, money.
As gift cards, gift certificates, and online gift registration services as "wish lists" become more commonplace and accepted, Lottay can be a valuable tool in your gift-giving arsenal. How successful it is may depend largely on how comfortable people are putting their wishes out there, and getting and giving cash toward gifts. But if it's the thought that counts, as Lin says, "in these times, money is thoughtful," says Lin.
Sidebar: Roundup - Wish Lists on Auction and Ecommerce Sites
Amazon.com's is perhaps the best known wish list of all ecommerce sites (Amazon Wish List). Accessible from the "Gifts and Wish Lists" tab on the top of the home page, it lets you find someone else's wish list and "remember" it, as well as create your own. It includes the ability to add your birthday and shipping address, as well as create a "universal wish list," allowing you to add products from any Web site to your Amazon Wish List with one click. All you have to do is click "Set Up Universal Wish List" from your Wish List page and follow the steps. (To add an item from Amazon's own site to your wish list, from any product page, simply click the "add to wish list" button).
Although there is no wish list feature available directly from the eBay site, there is an eBay "wish list" facebook application (link.) When I was last there, however, I got a blank page after I added the actual application. In eBay's new ad campaign, there is a "Live Stream of Wishes" where you can read "wishes sent from texts and tweets across the country," and add yours with the "Wish Now" button (link).
Half.com, an eBay company, does have a prominent wish list feature right on the main page at the top, just to the right of "My Account." It works much like Amazon's; click the "Add to wish list" button from the product page of an item you want to add. You can specify a maximum price you are willing to pay for a product and Half.com will email you when a product is available that matches your price.
Etsy offer users the ability to have favorites, and a Treasury page where you can view a list of favorites from other users, including how many views the items have.
Bonanzle offers a wish list feature, which you can view at the My Bonanzle tab.