The Irish Times – Monday, November 14, 2011
Your shopping is delivered to your door, a few clicks gets you the best price and with the wild and wacky selection of likely gifts on offer, there’s no excuse for giving a pair of socks. This list of favourite sites includes ones recommended by readers
’TIS THE season to be clever and the cleverest people will be doing at least some, if not all, of their Christmas shopping online. But with hundreds of thousands of websites touting for business and just a handful of big players hoovering up most of that business, it can be hard to find your way to the best, most unusual and best-value gifts.
Last week, we asked readers to recommend the sites they favoured and they came back with dozens of suggestions, some of which we had heard about and others which are soon to become the first port of call for all our Christmas shopping needs.
And before you say it, we do know that there are 41 sleeps until the big day and that Pricewatch is frequently to be found railing against the early-onset of good cheer but when it comes to shopping online, it is important to get it over with early.
While many Irish sites – and some international ones – have a very quick turnaround and can deliver to you within days of buying, the simplest thing is to shop early so you don’t spend Christmas week fretting and sweating about all those gifts which have yet to arrive. Inevitably the big players in e-tailing such as amazon.com, play.com and even ebay.com are going to be popular again with Irish shoppers over the coming weeks, but for the truly original present, you may need to cast your net wider.
This UK-based site has a bewildering array of cute and kitsch gifts, suitable for everyone in the family. it is not a single shop but a portal for scores of online retailers (not all of whom deliver to Ireland). there is a Reclaimed Comic Decoupage chair for just under €400, but if a chair decorated with cut-outs from old comics (decoupage) is not for you, the site has thousands of other gifts, from less than a fiver to several thousand euro which you will not find on the High Street. we were particularly taken with the “30 best gifts” for him or her. it could make you look like the cleverest most thoughtful person in the world. .
This is not any old website. it is an online crafts marketplace which cares about more than just money. Its stated aim is to “enable people to make a living making things, and to reconnect makers with buyers” and wants “to build a new economy and present a better choice”. we like the sound of that and we like that it has over 11 million registered users across 150 countries and at any one time is selling over 10 million items much of which is beautifully eclectic.
If you think your nearest and dearest is secretly pining for a motorised golf ball cleaner, Isotoner SmarTouch gloves (which allow you to use your touch screen phone without taking off your gloves) or a Darth Vader Lego mini-figure alarm clock, then look no further. there are also tents that look like VW camper vans (to confuse people at Electric Picnic next year), underwater disco lightshows and crooked tree houses, making this site one of the most wonderfully ridiculous online retailers we have ever come across. Prices range from less than €5 to more than €15,000 so there should be something to suit all tastes and budgets. the site says it scours the world looking for the “next big thing” and sells it before it makes it to the mass market. “it is our mission to always be first with the latest hot stuff,” they say, which is nice to know.
We love Hairy Baby. there are not many online retailers that can make us laugh but this is one and it has done so on more than one occasion. and all it does is sell T-shirts. Hilarious T-shirts that no-one outside of Ireland would find remotely funny or even understand. Our favourites right now? “Where’s Granddad?”, “Who said mass?”, “Who’s Taking the Horse to France” and “A1 Sharon” (but that’s just because the Snapper was on the telly last week). If you have never checked this site out then all we can say is you need to right that wrong as soon as you can.
If all you want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague away kit then look no further than this site. obviously football strips are not everyone’s thing but they are popular and going down this route for a gift will create the impression that you’re at least thinking outside the box. it sells replica jerseys from days gone by – we’re told that Manchester United’s 1968 European Cup winning team kit is very popular. the site is to be commended for not limiting itself to English football and if you want to find a 1950s Shamrock Rovers jersey or a Waterford United kit from the 1960s, you’ll find them here.
Boom-time presents at bust-time prices – that’s the promise made by this members-only sale site offering designer clobber at knock-down prices. you have to register for Brand Alley but in return for your personal details you can save up to 70 per cent on designer clothes, beauty, shoes and homeware. Its sales last for just a few days and not everything is great, by a long shot, but patient trawling could see you score an amazing present on the cheap.
An Irish site, this was set up in 2004 by a couple who were struggling to find good quality wooden toys which were fun and educational for babies, toddlers and preschool children. In the intervening years, the site has grown and now offers a host of creative and engaging toys for a wider age range. there are dolls’ houses, play kitchens, construction toys and train sets, arts and crafts, books and puzzles, bikes and rocking horses. Toys are categorised by age and developmental skills making it easy if you want a toy to help with a child’s reading, co-ordination or social skills.
We love this site as it contains completely mental things which we never realised we wanted – or knew existed – until we stopped by. There’s a portable iPhone charger with enough back-up power for up to five hours of calls for less than €20, Pac Man soap-on-a- rope and a Sound Asleep Pillow which has a speaker buried deep inside which is inaudible to anyone except the dozer. As we sat looking at the new electronic banking version of Monopoly on our desk, we came across Nostalgia Monopoly on the site. a replica of the original gameboard from one of the first editions of the game, it has vintage-looking components, a built-in banker’s tray and a visual history of the decades. we want one.
This site stresses that it’s the thought that counts and, luckily, they have put all the thought into it so you don’t have to. it was set up by two Cork sisters and has all manner of hilarious, ridiculous and very clever gifts, some of which are very good value. Last year we were taken by the possibly blasphemous salt and pepper grinders in the shape of some rather well known religious figures and while they are still for sale, they have been joined by hundreds of other presents that will wow you and make you laugh in equal measure.
This is not a shop but an online magazine “run by a few geeky ladies and gentlemen” who have too much time internet shopping so they can point you towards a “wide array of cool, fun, useful, and unique products”. the company’s philosophy is simple “we only want to display cool things you can buy on the web. when you visit ThisIsWhyImBroke, you’ll always see unique products that our staff was so fond of we felt it needed to be shared with you the viewer. many items listed on this site do return a small commission for product referral, however this is not the sole motivation for posting certain items.” fair enough.
This Irish-owned site sells gift vouchers as well as gifts which might make it useful if you’re buying for someone who has everything. because the site is local, sourcing “experience gifts” such as massages, hotel stays and spa treatments is easy and the range of Christmas hampers looks impressive.
Cosmetics for a fraction of the prices charged in Ireland. This site sells skincare, make-up and perfumes from brands such as Lancôme, Aveda, Redkin, Estée Lauder and Calvin Klein. the products are shipped from Asia so there is a good chance you’ll be hit for VAT and excise duty, which might take some of the gloss off the savings.
This is the online shop belonging to the Science Gallery in Dublin so it must sell a lot of gifts that only a physicist could love, right? wrong. This site is brilliant. it has bloodbath shower gel (red shower gel in a blood bag), incredibly funky looking toys and ornaments, a range of telescopes and dozens of other high and low brow gifts at prices which looked pretty competitive to us.
This is one of the UK’s leading online fashion stores and has all manner of catwalk-inspired women’s fashions at prices which are hard to beat on the High Street. it ships from the UK and charges in euro at – wait for this – the actual market rate. so if something costs £20 then it will cost €23.50. Marks Spencer and Tesco and the like could learn a thing or two about exchange rates from these people.
The gift genies are great. they sift through hundreds of websites, work out what is hot and what is not and then draw up lists of presents for boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, children, friends, colleagues and, um, mistresses (we are assured this category was kind of intended as a joke). the site does not actually sell anything but it will give you thousands of ideas you will never have had. it also works out what sites deliver to Ireland saving you the bother.
It does exactly what it says on the tin. you want cool little gadgets? You’ll find them here. On the homepage when we visited, the key products included a “speck fitted cookie camo iPhone 4 case, a world scratch map, and a griffin loop for the iPad.
Are you an annoying person? are you trying to buy a present for an annoying person? then this might well be the site for you. it has a whole category devoted to annoying people. and another one for lovers and one for kids and friends and partners. In short, it has presents for everyone in your life.
SHOPCREATOR. COM /MALL/NATIONALGALLERYOFIRELAND
It’s art innit. the official online shop of the National Gallery of Ireland has some wonderful books and prints for sale. we also liked the look of the children’s books. very good quality and not a Barbie adventure in sight. Result!
Fashion contact lenses? Check. a tankbot? Check. An arcade machine alarm clock? Check. This site may not have a huge amount of stock but what it sells is unusual and, if you choose wisely, you might find yourself with a present which has serious wow factor. the site seems pretty cheap too.
Pricewatch has actually paid cold hard cash for Annie West prints and we have been happy to do so for three reasons: they are hilarious, beautifully drawn and incredibly smart. all the collector’s edition prints are limited to 50, made to order by Giclée specialists and are supplied unframed.
Who wouldn’t love wine as a present? This UK-based site has many wines you might struggle to find closer to home. it delivers to the Republic, unlike many wine sellers based overseas, and readers have sung its praises.
THE GOLDEN RULES
1 NEVER FORGET that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you give your bank details to dansdodgydeals.com and hope to get a “genuine Rolex” by return, expect to be disappointed.
2 NEVER E-MAIL your credit card details to anyone and always check that the sites have a secure booking system. the page which asks for your financial details should have the url starter “https” – the “s” stands for secure.
3 IF a SITE is unfamiliar, check that the “contact us” page has full, real-world contact details, such as a valid address, telephone number, etc.
4 CHECK HOW the currency exchange rates are being calculated. If possible pay in euro. Credit card companies sometimes offer rates of exchange which are totally out of line with reality.
5 SPEND a few seconds Googling the name of sites which are new to you. If it throws up results which cast doubt on the bone fides of the site, you may want to walk away.
6 DON’T BE afraid to shop online – you actually have more rights shopping online than in the town centre. you can return items within seven days of receipt simply because you don’t like them.
7 ALWAYS CHECK the returns policy with an online retailer before committing to buy. If you can’t find them, look in the “frequently asked questions” area.