Confessions of a holiday gift guide writer

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Publishers’ fourth quarter commerce plans usually kick off as early as August, but that doesn’t make holiday weeks any less stressful. Hours get longer, the number of stories published increases and inboxes get even more full of product pitches from eager publicists.

In this edition of Digiday’s Confessions series, in which we exchange anonymity for candor, a commerce writer talks about their experience writing gift guides and holiday shopping stories.

While the source initially wanted to move into the commerce space for a better salary — they were able to move up from $40,000 as an editorial assistant to $60,000 as a commerce writer — that shift came with an increase in responsibility.

“I do think the commerce job descriptions are a lot harder than edit’s. With money comes time. You have to work holidays, you have to meet goals, but you’re compensated more on commerce than you are on edit,” she said. For this piece, Digiday spoke to her amid the Black Friday shopping season.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Are you expected to work big shopping holidays, like Thanksgiving?

Not so much on Thanksgiving, and that’s truthfully just because I have a great manager. I can imagine other teams do, but I don’t have to. I log on Thursday night after I’m done eating [though] because I want to make sure that everything is good to go for six o’clock in the morning on Black Friday. Friday I work all day [as well as] on Saturday and Sunday.

Those days are compensated and can roll into next year, so I’ll be taking a nice trip in January. And [my company] also gives us meal reimbursements for those days.

What does your work day look like during mega shopping days like Black Friday? 

We each are assigned categories or topics [to cover] unless something [unexpected comes up] from a brand. We’re constantly updating those stories, changing things that are out of stock, replacing things, changing headlines, republishing [stories] and putting everything on social media to make sure people see it.

That seems like a lot of stress. 

This time of year is 100% the most stressful time of year for everybody in the world because of the holidays, but as a commerce writer, it just doubles everything. It becomes very stagnant and everything starts to sound exactly [the same]. How many ways can a person say, “These are the best deals for Black Friday?” 

When you’re working on so much content and such similar content at once, it gets confusing. A great example is I wrote the gift guide for Nordstrom, but I also am writing Nordstrom holiday deals for Black Friday. So it gets confusing. I mean, I’m human.

But the most stressful part about it is that you are working during the holidays and I think people forget that. I want to be able to sit down on Thanksgiving and not think about Glossier’s best deals, but it’s become truly impossible. 

What goals do you have to meet? 

My personal quota is based on [number of] stories. I have to write seven stories a week.

But there’s two [goals we have to meet]. There’s a brand quota, which is the amount [of money] we have to make [as a brand] and I couldn’t tell you the exact number because it changes every day based on the economy. And then there’s a company quota, which is what [our parent company] wants to make in a four-month-long period [across all of its brands].

And we make it, we get it done. And if we don’t, it’s not like we’re getting fired or anything like that. But there’s always that conversation of why didn’t we do it? What can we do better?

How do you pick products to write about or include in gift guides? 

My email is like a landing spot for all the brands and I’ll go through them. Honestly, I was writing a story yesterday and I went into my inbox and I picked the first three from the top of my inbox, which I know could be messed up to some people, but I don’t have a lot of time.

But also the good thing about being on the commerce team is that you have access to all of these different dashboards, where we can specifically see what people are buying and I go based on that. So I know [a makeup brand] sells really well on [our website] so I try to include it as much as I can without making anything look like overkill.

It could come down to me shopping on my own time on my Amazon app or [ideas could come from] my friends who saw something on TikTok. But people are so easily influenced so I could sit here and praise a Gucci lipstick, but people probably aren’t going to buy it if it’s not one that the girl on TikTok went viral raving about.

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