What can marketers learn from the best 2016 holiday gift guides?

The holiday gift guide is mostly a loaded term in the retail world, with equal parts excitement and exhaustion, but these five retailers found success in simplicity, strategy and polished creative.

For some retailers, the gift guide is a nuclear arms race against competitors to show the newest functionality and to display their creative without restrictions. For those retailers, their gift guides are a massive endeavor, with video, parallax scroll and a dozen different ways to shop.

Ultimately, the investment may get some recognition, but it’s often lost on the customer.

For other retailers, the investment in IT, creative and marketing resources simply isn’t worth the return. Their holiday gift guides are often no more than a simple landing page directing customers to regular shopping categories such as sweaters or accessories.

That approach usually loses its lustre quickly, without giving the customer the feeling that the product is special or elevated enough to be gifted.

Yet there’s a middle ground, where even overworked marketers coming off brutal Black Friday planning can create an effective and beautiful gift guide without a massive development effort.

The five gift guides listed below have a strategic balance of thoughtful design, seamless execution and–most importantly–they focus on a good customer experience over creative bravado or UX affectation.

Urban Outfitters

The wildly successful retailer has another winning gift guide in 2016. The user experience is simple, yet effective. They don’t overdo it with navigation or bells and whistles. It’s also visually striking on the landing page with great textures and lifestyle imagery guiding the customer through the brand and the product.


There’s also only one GIF on the landing page that’s understated and provides support instead of dominating the page as others often do.

Even better, the product browse pages are simply product; they’re not trying to change the way consumers shop with awkward flyovers or a non-traditional grid.

Mobile is a breath of fresh air with its simplicity. A simple vertical scroll with large, consistently placed cards provides the shopper an easy method to find the right categories.

Overall, it fits the Urban Outfitters lifestyle. It’s a breeze to navigate and it doesn’t try to overwhelm the user with functionality.


A retailer better known for its fit-and-fun style provides a brand-right gift guide fitting of its personality, as well—it’s smart, fun and clean.


Navigation offers some segments based on occasion with an easy filtering option that aligns with the company’s focus on fit. Speaking of fit, every line of copy emphasizes or plays on the brand’s staple value proposition of a superior fitting product. It’s a great way to enhance brand perception during a time of increased traffic and new customers.

The copy is tongue-in-cheek as always and it’s brought to life through well-executed cinemagraphs including a looping fire, water ripples and a spinning disco ball. They’re strategically placed flush with product to support the merchandise and not overtake the shopping experience.

Bonobos takes a utilitarian approach to mobile. Where desktop is layered with cinemagraphs and creative, mobile is all about function. Each category is preceded by a text-based banner relying on the copy to tell the story. At the top of the mobile view all, a scroll bar outlines the category filters, but Bonobos clearly wants the customer to shop the view all on mobile.

Free People

Free People gets right to the point on gifts. They provide a quick visual navigation to guide the customer, but are also showing product immediately. It’s refreshing since so many gift guides require a maze of navigable pages, shopping styles, personality quizzes and other unnecessary journeys.


The one fallback is that the navigation is slightly confusing, as the top navigation drops out after the view all, which makes for a slightly inconsistent browse. But Free People makes up for it with beautiful product browse pages.

Name and price are understated, yet clearly visible, but it’s all about the product for them. Large, visually striking tiles that seem to flow into each other, dominate the page in four-wide products that showcase Free People’s iconic style with holiday attitude.

Similar to desktop, mobile takes the user straight to product. A toned-down visual navigation lays on top with easy to find categories. The lack of a consistent navigation across gifting categories is exacerbated on mobile; it’s quite difficult to go back to the view all or easily switch groupings.

Victoria’s Secret

Gift guides are the perfect opportunity to connect your brand lifestyle to your customer. While VS may have some issues connecting to younger generations, you can’t deny that its brand style, awareness, and creative is top-of-the-line. The VS gift guide is no different and it’s quintessential VS.


Large, full-bleed videos showcase the product and lifestyle. They’ve added some movement and animation, which feels natural in some sections, but also forced in others. It also makes the page extremely heavy with a longer load time. The major downside to the VS gift guide is the promotions splattered on every element. It feels urgent and lacks the elevated appeal and clout that VS previously maintained.

Overall, VS executed a well-thought gift guide, letting their iconic imagery sell the product without overwhelming the customer with additional navigation or page elements.

Warby Parker

Think Warby Parker would be pigeon-holed by its eyewear vertical? Well they’ve broken the mold yet again. The gift guide is clean, quirky and fun—there’s even a dog toy for sale and somehow it feels natural on the page.


Animation is a bit overdone at times, but it always seems to add to the product; it always has a purpose.

Warby Parker has done a great job of showcasing the product in big, bold images with clean, minimalist copy. The S-scroll of product down the page is an added benefit, it allows for natural scrolling and an easy navigation.

It’s a great gift guide that’s on-brand and very strategically designed without overwhelming UX elements or creative bravado.

KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid)

While there are hundreds of gift guides out there, very few brands find the fine line between too much and too little. Customers want a gift guide to feel special without overwhelming them with every idea, execution and functional enhancement possible in the digital world. We often get ahead of ourselves in retail, or get too caught up in keeping up with competitors to realize that the simplest path is usually the right one.

Related reading

Digital security concept