Online Service Lets People Send, Receive Gifts Anonymously

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Not one to let anonymity stand in the way of e-commerce, San Francisco start-up BlindGift.com last week launched a service that lets people send gifts using only recipients' e-mail addresses.


Under BlindGift.com's business model, Web sites - primarily chat and community - display a BlindGift.com-branded button that lets visitors buy gifts for online friends and acquiantenances without knowing the recipient's mailing address.


Clicking on the button brings the visitor to a Web page offering links to merchants with products ranging from $2.50 chocolates to six-figure jewelry.


The sender pays by credit card and personalizes an e-mail message. Once the recipient gets e-mail notification of the gift, he or she can decline it or accept by supplying a shipping address.


Since the recipient chooses whether to receive the gift and where it should be delivered, BlindGift.com claims it helps merchants limit undeliverable merchandise, spoilage and abandoned orders.


"We're opening up a new market," said Rob Hansen, president/CEO of BlindGift.com. Previously, the only way to draw revenue from chat rooms was by selling banner ads, he said. Sites displaying the BlindGift.com logo at press time included MatchMaker.com and recently launched teen site TheDigs.com.


For its services, BlindGift.com takes a cut of sales negotiated depending on merchants' margins and other factors. Merchants at press time included eBear.com, GourmetMarket.com, Artisangifts.com and PacificCookie.com.


Throughout the process, the sender is blocked from learning anything about the recipient beyond their e-mail address, according to BlindGift.com.


"We are a trusted third-party escrow service for personal information," said Hansen. "The recipient needs to know that the sender can't get their personal information."


BlindGift.com sees possibilities beyond chat-room romances.


"We're seeing a tremendous amount of interest in online support communities [such as health sites] from people who have developed deep relationships, but who are still anonymous," said Hansen. Husbands who want to send their wives flowers at work, but can't remember their street addresses are also prime targets.


Once the order is placed with BlindGift.com, the merchant has access for 30 days to senders' and recipients' e-mail addresses for shipping notification and other customer-service functions. During that time, the merchant is free to survey, cross-sell and upsell senders and recipients - theoretically, as often as they want. If merchants abuse the opportunity, however, BlindGift.com will limit contact, Hansen said.


To get the word out, BlindGift.com is spending $500,000 on an every-50th-gift-free promotion on alternative rock station KCNL 104.9 in San Francisco and on banners during the holidays.


BlindGift.com projects 55,000 registered users by year's end and expected to sign 20 merchants by this week.
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