Homemade Holiday Gifts in the 21st Century

For the first time in my life, I was able to create a homemade gift that generated more compliments than jokes about my lack of artistic abilities – and I don’t think I’m alone.

My wife and I were looking at the hundreds of pictures from our recent wedding and found ourselves re-hashing so many stories and laughs with each photo. We decided we should do something with the photos and created hardcover photo books for the holidays that we made on an online photo site. The gifts created quite a buzz at our holiday gatherings.

I decided to take a look at unique visitors to the two largest online photo/gift e-tailers Snapfish and Shutterfly, and see what the market looks like for an increasingly popular business of personalized gifts.

unique visitors snapfish shutterfly photo albums

As you can see, Snapfish has run neck and neck with Shutterfly in unique visitors in this space for the better part of two years – until this holiday season. Shutterfly has successfully managed to overtake Snapfish of late in driving unique visitors to its site.

The other thing that stands out is just how cyclical this business is. There are also some incredible swings in traffic throughout the year. Inevitably, many people visit the sites to print holiday photo cards and calendars, then forget about these sites until next year.

How could this have to do with why more people visit Shutterfly than Snapfish?

Both sites are aggressive in seasonal promotions (visit either site now and you can get a sweet deal on something for your sweetie). Both sites consistently offer free shipping on purchases over a certain dollar threshold. Both sites offer largely the same product suite.

So, what gives?

A quick look at Compete.com data reveals that shoppers are visiting Shutterfly about 10% more than they are visiting Snapfish.

average visits per user shutterfly snapfish photo albums

At first glance, Shutterfly appears to have acknowledged the “me” culture that we are living in; note the prominent display of community and personal features along the top navigation bar. What’s the upside of prominently displaying these features? The ability for visitors to post some photos and invite their friends opens the door to drive traffic – and potentially new visitors to the site.

shutterfly screenshot

Although Snapfish offers many of the same features, they do not jump out at you when you visit their front page. The experience is clean and simple, but appears focused on driving transactions. The word ‘Shop’ quickly jumps out on the page.

snapfish screenshot

As our data reveals, traffic to these sites is extremely cyclical – people do not need photo books made every week. Shutterfly appears to be hedging its bets on developing relationships with its customers and using them as a marketing tool to attract new visitors/potential customers to its site.

Imagine that family who has a baby, posts photos on their own free Shutterfly photo site and invites Grandma to see the photos. Grandma has never been on Shutterfly, she sees pictures of her granddaughter and decides to order prints. She does this every time the photo site is updated.

Again, Snapfish strives for simplicity, but might be doing so at the cost of exposing visitors to ways it can interact with the site.

Look for more of this in 2011 as retailers look for ways to unobtrusively be a part of consumer’s lives – and profit from it without anyone realizing it.