EBay Plays Not-So-Secret Santa

Online marketplace eBay launched a Secret Santa Gift Exchange promotion for the holiday season, in an effort to get its customers, along with their friends, families and co-workers, thinking of the site as a gift shopping destination.

San Jose, Calif.-based eBay partnered with the United States Postal Service, Infinity Broadcasting and social event planning site Evite to promote an automated version of the anonymous gift exchanges popular with work and social groups.

The program lets registered members set up a group to exchange gifts. The group founder can invite non-eBay members to join, but everyone must register on the site to participate. Members set up personal wish lists of interests or specific items they’d like to receive as gifts. Then, on the day selected by the Secret Santa group leader, eBay conducts a “draw” that assigns one member of the group to secretly purchase a gift for another. Each Secret Santa can then access the wish list of the designated gift recipient, and, by clicking on an item, conduct an instant eBay search for that item or for products that match key words.

“The depth and breadth of what we offer on the site will lend itself perfectly to better gift-giving,” said Julie Haddon, director of consumer promotions. The results will be drawn from all eBay’s different sales channels, including fixed price buy-it-now sales, auctions and branded stores.

The Gift Exchange will help keep members of the eBay community involved, according to Haddon, and also bring in new members. “We think there will be an impactful activation mechanism,” she said, “getting a lot of people involved. It’s a sustainable and fun thing that involves our community.”

EBay will promote the Exchange on- and offline, from November 13 through mid-December. The U.S. Postal Service will feature eBay Secret Santa Gift Exchange posters in post offices in ten top markets. Street teams in five top markets will sing carols and hand out posters, while Infinity Broadcasting will promote the exchange during drive time on 11 of its radio stations.

Online, eBay will conduct a sweepstakes and award 100 $25 gift certificates every day from November 13 to December 18 to Secret Santa Gift Exchange participants. Evite will feature the eBay Secret Santa Gift Exchange on its site and will offer a custom invitation template for people to host their own eBay Secret Santa Gift Exchange parties. Haddon declined to disclose how much the company would spend on the promotion, but said, “We take our marketing seriously.”

EBay is also using the opportunity to let users make an online donation to charity, offering links to non-profits at the bottom of the main Secret Santa page. Toys for Tots is the primary beneficiary, and users can also donate to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF and America’s Second Harvest. Donations through eBay Giving Works, a new service for fund-raising and cause marketing that eBay launched earlier this week. Giving Works technology and services are provided by MissionFish, a Washington D.C. non-profit that enables fund-raisers to collect online. The Giving Works platform also lets eBay sellers designate a percentage of their sales of any item to go to one of 2000 charities that are supported.

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