Unpacking Gift Cards 🎁 💌
Learnings from my first holiday season as a business
While developing Wanderly, I’ve been mostly thinking about parents, but many people I’ve chatted with have encouraged me to think about people who might want to give Wanderly as a gift. Parents are saturated with child entertainment options and generally have a monthly budget, but relatives are always looking for novel gifts for birthdays and holidays. Wanderly already works well with aunts and uncles – for example, check out one of my favorite user reviews:
"So I’m on this 4 hr road trip from Little Rock to Dallas with a 4 yr old and a 7 yr old and Wanderly is the hero and blockbuster hit of this trip. I’ve now used it to tell 5 stories and they keep asking for more." - Auntie Camille
The holidays are a perfect time to experiment with gifting: Almost everyone is in a gift-giving mindset, so targeting users and messaging are a bit easier to do. As Black Friday approached in November, I realized I would have to wait a whole year for these ideal experiment conditions to happen again… so I sprinted. I created a true MVP since I didn’t have time for “feature creep.” When I launched the gift card campaign on Cyber Monday, I hadn't yet finished the flow to redeem them! When the first person purchased, I was surprised, and then I rushed to my computer to polish things.
In the spirit of building in the open, here’s what I built and what I learned.
An MVP of Gift Cards
I developed a gift card concept around two products and price points: a $10 package for 10 stories and a $30 package for 30 stories. Each had a cute name: A Road Trip (since 10 stories could cover about 2-4 hours of content) and A Season of Stories (for 30 stories approximating three months at a more regular usage pace).
As I started to build it out, I realized there was a major constraint: My whole payment flow is “in” the app. Without significant engineering investment, using my existing payment system would require every gift card purchaser to go through new user signup – too much friction1.
Here’s what I did instead:
Leveraged my trial story infrastructure to add additional story credits to accounts when given a gift card.
At first, I manually updated the story credits in the database, but later, I built a system with a separate gift card table that auto-redeemed story credits at login.
Advertised Wanderly gift cards on Facebook and Instagram with gift-centric copy & targeted to grandparents, aunts, and uncles. I also sent a few email campaigns to existing users. These all funneled to a “Gift Cards” page on my Wix site.
Tried out coupons around Black Friday and the last week before Christmas.
Made a few printable gift cards to add some legitimacy and delight to the gift-giving flow.
Used Google Apps Script to send personalized emails to users to notify them of their gift card.
What I learned about gifting and Wanderly
I had a few challenges during this 1st gifting season:
The product is still really early.
The marketing messages are nascent; I don’t have a lot of testimonials or video content.
The gift card landing page is unoptimized.
Oh, and life was still crazy with a 5 and 1-year-old at home and unwinding my dad’s estate during the holiday season.
But despite all the challenges, I earned as much revenue from gift cards in December as I did from the regular product with subscriptions. So, I think there’s some potential here for Wanderly as a seasonal gifting product.
Here’s some interesting tidbits from the experiment:
Some of the gift cards were for people who had created accounts months ago (a great sign of stickiness).
Most purchases were in the week after Cyber Monday and the week before Christmas.
$10 and $30 gift cards were about equally popular.
My volume was too low to know if coupons made a difference.
I also implemented it completely wrong: I leveraged my existing infrastructure too much and defaulted to redeeming on an email address. I should have used coupon codes. Next year.
Only 50% of my gift cards have been redeemed as of writing, but I’ll send a nudge in a couple of weeks.
It was also interesting to see people's willingness to buy story credits via gift cards. I’ve avoided story credits as a monetization model so far because I wasn’t sure what a “story” would cost me. But now that I’ve found that the sweet spot for Wanderly stories is 5-10 pages3, costing in the per-story unit doesn’t feel constraining. Sometime in the next few months, I’ll likely create a middle pricing tier that’s a bit more pay-as-you-go but doesn’t include some of the more expensive Premium features.
In the meantime, I’ve unlaunched gift cards. Because my MVP was implemented in a way that requires a lot of manual work (i.e., “things that don’t scale”), I’m being protective of my time and focusing on other experiments. I’ll definitely bring gift cards back next holiday season or earlier, but with a new flow that builds on my learning here. The nice thing about building my MVP with Wix is that I don’t really need to worry about maintaining much of it while I continue to iterate on core Wanderly.
I’m almost done working with a Toptal engineer on an iOS & Android version of Wanderly, which is also causing me to revisit my marketing site and branding (like app icon and splash pages). When that arrives, I’ll do a long-form post about the process, what tools I used, and any early learnings. I’m approaching one year since my first line of code for Wanderly, and I’ll be doing a fun reflection on that, too. 🙂
Hoping you all have had a happy and healthy start to 2024, and I hope this year is better than the last!
This is because of how I engineered my app, not because of any limitations on the Stripe platform I use to power Wanderly subscriptions. It just would have taken more time and effort to integrate the Stripe single-purchase flow and make it available outside login... time I didn't have.
I tried digital items, and I forgot the details, but it made many assumptions about digital items that didn't work for my use case.
I originally started out with a 12-page limit because that was the size of the context window for ChatGPT at the time. Once the context window expanded, I tried out 40-page stories, but the plot was meandering. I also got feedback from users that the stories were just too long. Lesson learned: even though the technology is able to do it doesn’t mean you should. I've now made it so that Wanderly stories have a single plot arc, and depending on the options the child chooses, that arc is naturally completed within 5-10 pages, and it feels good.