Can Algorithms Help You Find the Perfect Gift?

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It can be hard to come up with the perfect present, especially for that elusive “person who has everything.” Many people treat themselves and buy what they want, so it can be difficult to figure out what to gift these people when they already have everything on their wishlist! 

With all that technology can do for us these days it shouldn’t be a surprise that technology can help simplify our gift-giving traditions. For example, instead of the hassle involved to go to a store, shop for a paper greeting card, purchase a gift card, find a postage stamp, and mail it, you can now do all of this digitally. It’s easy to attach a gift card to an eCard or specifically Happy Birthday eCards. On the flip side, if you’re hosting a birthday gathering, you can include a link to a gift registry or the charity of your choice (for donations) right on your online birthday invitations to streamline gift-buying for your guests. 

These changes to our gifting traditions are already accepted and widely used. It’s part of a wider trend of how social media and technology has changed the way we celebrate birthdays. But what can we expect next in gift-giving innovation? Below are some more advanced methods and theoretical ideas about where this trend is headed.

How Machine Learning Can Identify Consumer Preferences

First things first: What is machine learning? Machine learning is the study of computer algorithms that use data to improve the experience of the consumer via artificial intelligence. Primarily, it is used to identify consumer preferences so that you only see things related to what you like and perhaps what you might like. 

Some of the applications of this capability that you may already be familiar with are the recommendations that you see on streaming services like Netflix. Netflix is able to look at the types of shows and movies you watch and then send you targeted recommendations so that you don’t have to sift through pages of things you have no interest in. In the end, this process saves you time. Targeted ads are also an example of this technology; when you frequent pages for products you like to buy then you are more likely to begin to see ads for similar products that you might not have been aware of before.

How Could We Use Machine Learning for Gift-Giving?

Since machine learning can identify consumer preferences, it’s not a big leap to understand how it could help with gift-giving. Let’s use Amazon as a theoretical example of how this may be implemented to help you find that perfect gift. 

Amazon has vast amounts of data on our spending habits. If it were possible for your spouse, immediate family, or even friends to agree to share some of this data on their spending habits with you, Amazon could in turn give you suggestions on items these people might like based on their past purchases. Amazon’s algorithms could essentially create a wish list to help gift-buyers find the perfect present. It’s a logical extension of the wishlist functionality already in place today. 


There are many benefits of using machine learning to discover your gift recipients’ preferences. Examples:

  • Personalized Gifts: Machine learning could help you find very specific gifts that perfectly match the interests of your recipient (gifts they might not have even considered to buy for themselves). You could purchase a dog bed that perfectly matches their new rug, or the perfect accessory for their iPad. 

  • Less Waste: Sometimes you just buy a gift out of obligation without feeling like you really nailed it. Gifts like this usually end up unused by the recipient and are a waste of money and materials. Machine learning could help take away the pressure you’ll feel when you try and look for a gift but have no idea where to start.

  • Less Stress: Gift shopping can be tough and it can be stressful. No one wants to give a lame gift but it can be so hard to know what someone will truly enjoy and use. Shopping for gifts can also take up A LOT of time, but machine learning could cut down that time so you can breathe a little easier!


While machine learning has positive benefits for the consumer and can help make your life easier, there are some possible drawbacks. 

  • Privacy Concerns: Machine learning would require those who participate to relinquish a certain amount of their privacy (such is the nature of data collection). This may not be a concern at all for some, but for many others online privacy concerns are something to think about and take seriously. This is especially true given the current social media landscape and how much of our personal information we already share.

  • Corporate Influence: There is also the possibility of corporate influence. Certain corporations may be able to use their influence to push certain products or brands over others even when they may not be the best fit for what you or your gift recipient might want. This could create a slippery slope that undermines the very appeal of machine learning in the first place.

  • It’s Not a Sure Thing: At the end of the day, an algorithm would only be able to make an educated guess about what gifts your recipient would like. There is no surefire way to know what they will like unless they tell you. So even if future technology helps you come up with gift ideas, just know there's a chance you could still come up with that perfect gift yourself!

Current Initiatives

While machine learning is still in its infancy, there are still some current initiatives that do already offer something similar to this service. For example, the app Token asks the user to input information they have about the gift recipient, like your relationship to them, their style preferences, what the occasion is, and what your budget is for the gift. Token then uses their own algorithm to narrow down what products it thinks would make a good match for you and your recipient. 

Additionally, the platform Alyce is used by companies both large and small to find gifts for their clients. Alyce looks at social data and business goals and chooses a gift that is personalized for each individual. At the end of the process, the recipient can even choose a new gift if they don’t like what they have received or donate it to charity.

At the end of the day, all of the hassle and thought that goes into getting gifts could be minimized with a simple gift registry. A list created and shared by the actual recipient can remove a lot of work, time, and struggle out of the equation. But unless everyone shifts to registries for all gift-giving occasions, machine learning might be your best bet!

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