Online Shopping

By Robyn Gearey

(Nov. 30, 1999) -- If for you, Christmas shopping conjures up images of cheery carols, heartwarming decorations, cherubic children perched on Santa's lap, and the joy of unearthing the perfect gift in a mega-mall full of nearly identical plastic trinkets, then perhaps this article isn't for you. Click back over to the home page and read something else (I hear Rule Breaker is pretty good today!).

But if you're like me, and you hate the ubiquitous plastic reindeer, piped in holiday tunes, crowded shopping centers, and cookie-cutter gift options, then read on, because I'm going to tell you how to escape the stress of holiday shopping. That's right, instead of braving the mall in the bitter cold and fighting that guy in the black Lexus for the last parking spot, you'll be snuggled up in your own home, wearing your slippers and sipping hot buttered rum, because we Fools like to do our Christmas shopping online. Why?

Shop Around the Clock
Even with special "holiday hours" it can still be difficult to squeeze gift shopping in among all the other things on your holiday to-do list. And you don't want to find yourself at the mall at 8:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve with a list of 15 presents to buy and half-an-hour before the stores close. The Web, of course, is open 24 hours a day, so you can find what you need on your own time. Shop at 6:30 in the morning before you leave for work or at 3 a.m. when you wake up and can't fall back to sleep. Or whenever works for you.

Many online stores offer other great convenience features such as gift-wrapping that can save you even more time and energy. And almost all Web shops will mail your gift directly to the recipient. This is a good thing, because Christmas comes in winter, and if you haven't noticed, winter is COLD! So why go outside anymore than absolutely necessary? If you don't leave the house, you can't slip on the ice and break a limb. (See how we here at the Fool are always watching out for you?)

Swear Off Fruitcake
Worried that when your sister says, "Oh, you shouldn't have!" she really means it? Well, shopping online opens up whole new worlds. On the Internet, you often have access to all sorts of gift items that aren't available through your local stores, or even through catalogs. Instead of the usual sweater or tie, you can give your loved one an authentic New York cheesecake (in several varieties, from classic plain to Brownie Marble Swirl or Chocolate Malted). Add in an Egg Cream kit and a dozen fresh New York bagels, and you've got the perfect gift basket for a homesick New Yorker. (Items like these can be found at online stores such as www.citystuff.com or www.greatfood.com.)

When your options aren't limited to the same old department stores and chains, it's easy to transform yourself into a star gift-giver. If Mom's a bookworm, search the Web for shops selling rare books. Alibrus (www.alibrus.com) stocks signed books, as well as first editions and other hard-to-find tomes. Or how about a vintage pocket watch for Dad? It may just be a click away at a site like Ashford.com (www.ashford.com).

What if you want to give the perfect gift, but have no idea what to get your teenage niece who recently dyed her hair purple? Most of the larger sites offer search engines designed to help you figure it out. That's great if you want to buy someone a book or CD and just don't know which one to choose. But if you really don't know where to start, GiftMe.com (www.giftme.com) lets you search using a whole list of qualities: age, gender, interests, price, and relation to you (mother-in-law, co-worker, boss, etc.). I tried it on a few of the harder-to-buy-for people in my life and found that it turned up some good suggestions -- a Tiffany key chain for a fashionable friend, chocolate truffles to hand to a casual acquaintance, Tae-Bo tapes for a college-age sister.

(Oh, and as for what to buy that niece? Bolt.com suggests, among other things, red hair dye. She'll love it -- but her mother might not.)

All I Want for Christmas�
Now that you know where to look for the perfect gifts for everyone else, why not start looking out for number-one? If you're tired of getting bath gel or aftershave every year, check out a new feature on sites like Amazon.com (www.amazon.com), CDNow (www.cdnow.com), Girlshop (www.girlshop.com), and iQVC (www.qvc.com). The "wish list" is much like a bridal registry -- you pick out items you want, place them on your wish list, and anyone who wants to give you a gift can see what you'd like to receive. That way, you can get that CD box set you really want and not another scarf.

Only a few sites have this feature, though, so what if what you want isn't on one of them? You can head over to one of the several sites that offer universal wish lists on which you can include items from any website (www.WishList.com, www.WishConnect.com, www.MyWishList.com, and www.WhyGuess.com are a few). Each site is a little different, but essentially all you do is create a user name and password and add items to the list. Friends and family can then go to the site to look up your list. Some sites offer fun extra features, too. WishList.com will send you emails reminding you of upcoming birthdays, anniversaries, etc., and will even automatically send out e-cards if you like.

You Better Shop Around
Almost better than the convenience of online shopping is the opportunity to save money -- and what's more Foolish than that? Many sites offer their products at a discounted price because they don't have as many overhead costs -- a physical store, salespeople dressed as elves, etc. -- as traditional retailers.

Comparison shopping sites like MySimon.com (www.MySimon.com) allow you to easily find the best prices on the Web for everything from the hottest new Nintendo game for your nephew to hard-to-find Cuban cigars for your father-in-law. And comparing prices can really pay off -- a recent MySimon search for a Palm V PDA found 46 listings with prices ranging from $281.86 to $449.

Some comparison shopping sites are better for certain items than others. At PricePulse (www.pricepulse.com), which specializes in computer equipment, handhelds, and digital cameras, a search for the Palm V turned up an even lower price ($279.92) than MySimon's search.

And don't think comparison shopping sites are useful only for higher-priced items like the Palm V. Even everyday products such as books, CDs, and toys can vary widely in price. A search on eCompare (www.ecompare.com) for Frank McCourt's new book, 'Tis, found prices ranging from $12.49 to $26, so it can really pay to shop around.

Okay, now that I've convinced you of how great it is to shop online -- how much time, money, and hassle you'll save and how to find great gifts for everyone on your list -- you're ready to dash to the nearest computer and speed-type in all your orders. Not so fast, Santa Fool! You better stop and read this Online Shopping FAQ first�.

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 A Guide to Shopping Online

  • Introduction
  • Online Shopping
  • Frequently Asked Questions About Shopping Online
  • A Closer Look at the Business Raters
  • Specials Message Board


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