The art of gifting has a long history in Vietnam, but the almost simultaneous launch of two gift experience companies suggests that some believe the country’s growing middle class is ready for a new kind of present. Happimap and Senses Club are attempting to pitch their tents in a gap their respective founders spotted in the country’s economy.
The idea currently being introduced to Vietnam is born out of two concepts of gift-giving popular in the West; the gift voucher and the experiential gift. Gift vouchers, redeemable for a specified amount, are widely available from many stores. But the idea of giving an experience as a gift was introduced in the 1990s by UK company, Red Letter Days. They offered a huge range of experiences to give your loved one; from spa visits to paragliding sessions, the chance to learn magic tricks, or perhaps to make jewellery. The idea took off and today the experiential gift market is a multi-million dollar industry.
The concept being offered here combines the two ideas. The giver buys a gift voucher, which is then redeemed by the recipient for an experience of their choice. The founders of Happimap and Senses Club believe this will lead to more exciting and memorable gifts.
“Often after a birthday or party you end up with 10 bottles of wine or spirits and you have to really think to remember — I got this one from Mary, this one from Jenny,” explains 29-year-old Biqué Trieu, the co-founder of Happimap. “But when you have been given an experience by someone, you will think of Mary or Jenny when you’re redeeming your spa voucher.”
This is echoed by co-founder of Senses Club, Alexi Daste. “You don’t want to buy a gift for someone and then find out it is not what the person likes,” he says.
In response, both have created a catalogue of gifts, each with a different value. Happimap’s version is colour-coded, starts at VND500,000 per gift set and rises to VND3 million. Senses Club similarly offers a value range with their three price categories Crystal, Gold and Platinum spanning from VND350,000 to just under VND2 million.
The selection of gifts in each catalogue is divided into categories. So, in Happimap’s culinary gift experiences section, the person who has received the gift can choose to redeem their voucher on anything from a meal for two at an Indian restaurant through to a street eats tour of Hanoi, a cooking class in Hoi An. In the sport and adventure category, you could play paintball, have a round of golf, learn pole dancing or even choose to go scuba diving.
Creating the Market
The market that exists in the West relies on consumers’ total trust that you will get what you pay for. If it turns out this isn’t the case, you have legal rights to a refund. Such consumer security is lacking in Vietnam; trying to convince people who haven’t yet had reason to trust in the concept of vouchers is not simple. Here, traditionally gifts are presents to be unwrapped, things you can touch and feel.
This lack of security has been accentuated by problems experienced by customers of the discount coupon provider, Nhom Mua. When they failed to deliver on valid, pre-purchased vouchers last November, the previously popular website went offline and its manager, Tom Tran, left the country — all eroding any trust that had been built up for such vouchers in Vietnam.
With Happimap and Senses Club both working in a similar market, according to Alexi, this is one of the most difficult hurdles that they have had to overcome.
“We felt the effect [of the Nhom Mua scandal] during our negotiations with providers,” he explains. “We had to work even harder to convince them that our vouchers are secure.”
Biqué says that to deal with this problem they’ve had to pay the utmost attention to quality control. They’ve also had to make a clear distinction between discount coupons and their own product. “It’s not about deals, it’s about experience,” she says, adding that it was not easy to find reliable partners. “We had to be picky and even now keep up quality control for every service and [piece of] equipment featured in our range.”
Tug and Pull
It is in the difficulty of finding the right partners where it seems their race to a sturdy tent is at its fiercest.
“Few of our partners are shared,” says Alexi. “But Vietnam has only a limited number of services with standards as high as we need them to be.”
Yet, having two new businesses simultaneously trying to change gift-giving behaviour is beneficial for both start-ups. By promoting themselves, they are promoting the industry as a whole, and by virtue of this, their competitor, too. They are also dependent on each other to build up trust. Make one Nhom Mua-style mistake, and it will affect the whole market. But create trust among their customer base, and their competitor will benefit, too.
But even getting to launch stage was tough — the gestation period for both Happimap and Senses Club was roughly a year-and-a-half. “Unless you want to release a [low quality] product it takes time,” explains Biqué. “A lot of people give up on Vietnam easily. But when you are still here at the end of the day, you know you believe in something. I still believe in the market and the people.”
It is the growing middle class that Senses Club is putting its money on as well, 20 to 40 year-olds who spend money on leisure and entertainment. Alexi describes the target customer as someone who is “willing to try new things and whose mind is more flexible.”
How quickly they will help Senses Club and Happimap make those tent pegs sturdy is yet to be seen. But with the entry of both these gift experiences to the market, one thing is clear. Gift-giving in Vietnam is about to become just that little bit more exciting.