- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005

Another tie? Instead, a little creativity — and browsing on the Internet — could have meant giving Dad a monogrammed branding iron to sear his New York strip steak with tomorrow.

Many companies now offer free profiling services that promise to find Dad the perfect Father’s Day gift, by matching products with recipients so the buyer doesn’t have to search site after site, browsing through thousands of gift ideas.

These “gift sites” use an individual’s profile to provide a list of gift ideas that match a recipient’s interests — at no cost to the buyer.

Sites that use profiling tools to match recipients with compatible ideas include GiftGobbler.com, Perfect Present Picker Inc. (www.presentpicker.com), Surprise.com, Gifts.com, Personal Shopper Inc. (www.personalshopper.com) and FindGift.com.

The sites don’t sell the merchandise they recommend; rather, they take information based on age, sex, personality and interests to give buyers a list of gift ideas from thousands of merchants, said William Lynch, chief executive of Gifts.com.

The sites have seen a dramatic increase in traffic as Father’s Day approaches.

On Tuesday alone, there were 79,000 gift searches on Gifts.com. Since the site was created in February, the site has averaged about 800,000 visits a month, Mr. Lynch said.

“We saw the same dynamic on Mother’s Day,” Mr. Lynch said. “If you look at the real volume of people and where they’re coming, there’s a lot of last-minute shoppers out there.”

Gifts.com’s most popular Father’s Day search was for dads who are “gadget gurus,” he said.

Among some of the more popular items included sunglasses that double as MP3 players, personalized photo calendars, a digital picture viewer on a key chain and a Swiss army knife with USB memory storage capability.

Another unique item was a “Personalized Branding Iron for the Grillmaster” for grilling meat.

“You can customize the branding irons to Dad’s initials — when you char the meat it’ll have his initials on it, which is pretty neat,” Mr. Lynch said.

Manufactured by Texas Irons, the branding irons are also available in “DAD” and “R,” “M” and “W” (for rare, medium and well done).

Personalized gifts also have been big Father’s Day attractions at Perfect Present Picker, whose site averages 30,000 visits a day, said Nathalie Herling, public relations and marketing spokeswoman.

“It seems to be a new wave of popularity again to get Dad’s name written on something,” Ms. Herling said. “From what I hear from merchants, that field has doubled on the Internet in sales in the last year.”

The tailored searches begin by asking the buyer to give some simple information about the recipient, such as age, sex and a predominant personality trait or interest (e.g., sports fan, gourmet, domestic diva).

The ideas returned for a search at most sites are ordered based on the relevance to the buyer’s search criteria. Profiling tools are used to filter results by price, popularity, originality or suitability.

The goal is to get specific gift ideas that show some thought was put into the purchase, said Bob Zakrzewski, co-founder and owner of FindGift.com.

“What we’re trying to do is pull a needle out of a haystack because we have over 22,000 gift ideas,” said Mr. Zakrzewski, whose site has had more than 800,000 visitors this month.

Sites compete to come up with the most unusual ideas because they know unique items attract buyers.

“We spend a lot of our time focusing on real unusual items that you wouldn’t have thought of,” said Liz Lacy, senior content manager at Surprise.com.

Sites also compete by recommending different brands. Buyers look for big names, so the more brand recognition a site has, the more visitors it will attract.

Another way to tailor to a buyer’s needs is to offer a full array of products that range from apparel to home, books to electronics and toys for children, said Laura Silsby, chief executive office and founder of Personal Shopper.

Buyers interested in a recommended product are directed to the merchant’s Web site, where the actual sale takes place.

Most gift sites make their money from sponsors and advertising rather than from sales or click-throughs.

Perfect Present Picker has sponsors who are merchants who pay a nominal fee, Ms. Herling said.

The company does not make money based on purchases from its recommendations, Ms. Herling said.

FindGift.com’s revenue come from partnerships with more than 700 merchants, who, Mr. Zakrzewski says, are more than compensated.

“They get about $8 back for every dollar they spend with us, so it’s a good conversion rate,” he said.

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