Graduation Looks a Little Different This Year and so Do the Gifts | Coronavirus Series


I’ll come right out and say it: I’m not a Harvard University graduate. But I do remember watching Oprah Winfrey’s riveting commencement speech for Harvard University grads back in 2013 on YouTube. 

“No matter what challenges or setbacks or disappointments you may encounter along the way, you’ll find true success and happiness if you have only one goal. There really is only one, and that is this: to fulfill the highest, most truthful expression of yourself as a human being,” she said.

I think we can all, as a community, take that message to heart right now.

In the midst of a global pandemic, millions of high school and college students around the world are having to deal with major challenges and setbacks even before they get out into the real world. Sadly, the coronavirus pandemic has robbed these students of the experience of turning their tassels, tossing their caps in the air, and celebrating with their peers. 

While physical ceremonies and celebrations have been canceled, communities are finding new ways to commemorate this moment for new grads in new ways. And graduation gifts have certainly not been forgotten, according to Klaviyo’s recent analysis of data from more than 32,000 ecommerce businesses. 

Let’s look at three ways your brand can help the graduating class of 2020 feel special and overcome this temporary setback.

Grads will walk the (virtual) stage 

As a community events manager, I know all too well about having to turn physical events and celebrations into online events—or at least more intimate ones. While many high school and college seniors were hoping to walk across the stage at their school’s commencement ceremony, they’re now having to get creative and take that walk across their living rooms or backyards instead, and more than likely virtually conference in their families and friends. 

To spice it up, many families are getting creative and looking to purchase all the graduation essentials online, like a cap and gown, special socks, a backdrop, microphones, banners and signs, pop-up stages, red carpets, flowers, balloons, trophies, and more to make it their grad’s at-home commencement feel as close to the real thing as possible. 

Brands that sell party essentials, custom attire, or gifting products like flowers or candy—now is your time to connect with consumers and school officials who are looking to host at-home and online commencement celebrations. 

If you sell something that can help fill a graduate’s need right now, make sure they know about it through your online ads, which are very affordable right now, your email marketing, your social media presence, and even content on your website. 

Take a look at how Hallmark created a “how to celebrate guide” on their website and linked to other helpful content and relevant products.



Personalization is the Class of 2020’s valedictorian 

Now more than ever, consumers are looking for ways to level up their graduation gift-giving. From custom socks to personalized video montages or even some bling, gift-givers are putting a little extra thought and compassion into their purchases instead of giving grads the usual cash or dorm room accessories. 

Take Greetabl, for example. They knew graduation time, like other holidays, was the perfect time to market their personalized gift boxes, especially since physical gift-giving at a party is not an option at the moment. 

Here’s an example of their email campaign about celebrating the grad in your life. Short, simple, fun, and completely personable.


What are some ways you can market your products and make them special for a recent grad? Can you segment your list and direct different messages to recent grads who may want to purchase a gift for those whose shoes they were recently in? Are there opportunities to get involved in your local community or reach out to schools to offer your product as a gift to students? 

The sky’s the limit when it comes to creating a personalized, memorable experience. You just have to look at your data and think creatively about how you might use it.

To give a gift, a gift card, or a gift box? 

Recently, we polled thousands of consumers and asked them specifically about the topic of graduation gifts. Twenty-five percent said they would be spending the same amount as usual or even more money on graduation gifts this year. In the UK, 42 percent of people say they’ll be spending more on grad gifts this year. That’s a pretty big percentage of people looking for the perfect graduation gift right now.

Gift cards have always been a major graduation gift option. But now, many consumers are purchasing gift cards at a higher volume than usual—even more so than at this time last year. 

If you don’t already have the option to allow shoppers to purchase gift cards directly from your website, now would be a really (really) great time to start and maybe serve up a form or campaign that promotes a special on gift cards like “One for you, one for the special grad!”


Source: Klaviyo, May 20, 2020.

Gift boxes have also become incredibly popular. BoxFox, for example, is helping consumers bundle celebration in a box. Their recent campaign, “Hat’s Off to You, Class of 2020!” saw some pretty amazing results. 

consumer-spending-graduationEven if your business can’t offer gift boxes, try bundling your products or creating a promotion like MyIntent’s pay-it-forward campaign. 

MyIntent served up a form on their website promoting a free bracelet for a grad. Once visitors entered their email address, they received promo code they could use to send a free bracelet. 

While MyIntent was collecting emails to help pay it forward, they were also gathering data on consumers they could then use to communicate back to with more relevant content and offerings.

consumer-spending-graduationKey takeaway

Oprah may be a huge inspiration for many, but how can your brand inspire recent grads who need a little extra love during this time? 

Right now is not the time to sell. It’s the time to be educating, paying it forward, and leading with empathy. If you do that customers, money, and growth will follow. 

Just like the Class of 2020 grads who are now ready to take the next step in life, now may be the perfect time for you to look at the next chapter for your brand. 

Oprah said we have truly one goal in life and that’s to fulfill the highest, most truthful expression of ourselves as human beings. How are you doing that for your brand? Remember why you started, and let that be an expression of your brand and how you can help others in these new times. 

Want to connect with the Klaviyo community and hear real-life examples from ecommerce brands that use Klaviyo to grow? Check out our live virtual event series and register to join!

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