In the Future will Algorithms Do Christmas Shopping For You?

How will online shopping change how Christmas shopping is done?

It’s that time of year. The time of year you have to buy things for other people that you’ll likely never get to use.

Watch any Christmas movie and you get one of two things: a whimsical mall filled with bright lights and toys or a WWE free for all. I think most people relate to the second option more, but at the same time there’s that feeling of options that you get from window shopping.

I generally fall into the WWE category as I hold off on getting presents until the last week leading up to Christmas and I’m stuck fighting all the other people who did the same. It’s a terrible feeling pushing your way to that novel that your Grandma would love only to find out it’s sold out and you’re stuck getting oven mitts for her or something else left over.

Don’t get me wrong, finding the perfect gift is one of my favorite aspects about Christmas. Figuring out what in a store or mall fits the people you’re shopping for most is a great way to reflect on the people in your life and what you’ve managed to learn about them or at least what they want you to know about.

It’s one of the more materialistic aspects of Christmas that the movies tend to fight against, but when you have the time and money it can really be a relaxing and reflective time of year. Granted those two restrictions can apply to essentially everything. Of course if I didn’t have to worry about time and money I’d enjoy things more. They’re the two things everyone worries about.

And with the rise of online shopping is this aspect of Christmas helped or hurt? It’s hard to tell.

With the rise of online shopping it’s easy to get exactly what you’re looking for in a short amount of time. You reduce the time looking around and increase the time it takes to receive the package.

If you have a fairly good idea of what you’re looking for, great! Browse forums about the things your person of interest likes and see what other fans are into. Google enough Harry Potter wands and then all of sudden your twitter feed is filled with Harry Potter books and your top recommended Youtube video is Potter Puppet Pals (I’m kinda showing my age here).

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In a weird way, marketing algorithms are learning about you and doing its best to funnel the items you’re most likely to buy. Just like you learned about your friends and family to find the right gift for them, programs are doing the same thing as you continue to surf the web looking for items.

And just like the more you interact with someone the more you learn about them, the more info that is fed about you (or at least your IP) leads to more accurate predictions of what you’re most likely to buy. And not only will Google Ads and whoever else buys your info be able to figure out what you want, but compare you to other successful matches that worked in the past with people that looked for the similar things. Kind of like a behind the scenes “Other Shoppers also Viewed This” page, but on a global scale.

If not already, perhaps those marketing algorithms will be better at finding the perfect gift for people than you even if they never searched for anything online before.

As these programs improve perhaps the best way to shop for someone would be to spend a couple hours searching for various things you think they’d search for and see what ads pop up. It would at least free up more time for you to actually spend the time with the person you’re shopping for.

Maybe we could even let the program play some Christmas music as you did it.