Maybe you don't like the idea of ordering your Santa Claus stuff online, where you can't feel it, touch it, smell it, lick it, weigh it from palm to palm, bite it, or shine a light on it. But Christmas is closing in, and the mall's packed with overstressed shoppers whose medication has probably worn off by now, and you're glassy-eyed from wandering through one store after another searching, thinking, never quite deciding. So c'mon -- doesn't that computer look good to you right now? Doesn't that mouse-click feel decisive? The first rule of shopping online: Take advantage of the technology -- do some creative searching. Sure, you can do a one-stop trip to Amazon.com and buy almost anything, but surfing for real finds is much more fun, what with all the cool little boutique sites that are popping up all over cyberspace.
We'll point you to a few quirky shopping sites to get you started, but first let's briefly cover the three things that tend to bug people about online shopping --
#1 I don't want to enter my credit card online. Some dork will steal my number and use it to buy airline tickets to Bali or to download megabytes of porn.
The banks that issue credit cards were worried about this, too. You'll notice that they got past it. That's because there's a standard secure way of transmitting credit cards online. It's called SSL (Secure Socket Layers), and it "hides" the number using encryption. If you're ever asked to enter your credit card number online, make sure you're on a secure page. You'll see a locked padlock below your browser window.
I've never heard of anyone's credit card number being stolen online and used to buy something. If it does happen, your liability is limited by law to $50, so it's not as big of a risk as you might think.
#2 I hate to give information about myself to a Web site. I'm afraid I would lose my privacy. I don't want anyone to know how boring I really am!
#3 Shipping and handling charges really suck!
Well, yeah -- but shopping sites have to get those products to you somehow, and the Pony Express is long gone. Some use carriers like United Parcel Service and Federal Express, others use the U.S. Postal Service. All of these services have a price. If the cost of shipping wasn't passed on to the customer, it would be near impossible for a shopping site to make a buck. So if you find a site that doesn't charge for shipping widgets (aside from special promotions), the cost has probably been factored into the widget price. Handling charges are more flexible. These fees cover costs (labor, materials) of packaging the order and will sometimes be absent or waived for larger orders.
Now, let's go shopping! Check out these sites:
Archie McPhee & Co., Outfitters of Popular Culture
If you're looking for toys that are a bit edgier, Archie McPhee's bizarre set of gizmos includes space mucus, a commuter voodoo car, a nodding sphinx, an eyeball beach ball, a brain juice pen, and (one of the McPhee Top Twelve) a sarcastic answer ball (a take on the 8-ball oracle). If the sarcastic ball brings you down, there's also a smiley-faced affirmation ball to make you happy ("your breath is so minty!").
Dr. Pepper Museum
I admit a personal bias: At times there's more Dr. Pepper than blood flowing through my veins. Dr. Pepper swag has deep significance for me, and the museum's online gift shop is loaded. Dr. Pepper wastebaskets, throws, coolers, coin purses, a 10-2-4 pocket calculator, a mousepad, and Dr. Pepper flavored jelly beans, to name a few. It's also worthwhile to visit the Dublin Dr. Pepper Museum at http://www.drpep.com
, where you can order original-formula Dr. Pepper made with real sugar!
Refrigerator magnets of every stripe, including fragrant poetry, magnetic jigsaw puzzles, and bipolar recipes.
They call themselves "the ultimate source for any kind of ball," and so it is. Here you can find baseballs, basketballs, soccer balls, golf balls, medicine balls -- over 1,700 different kinds. Includes Earth's First Ball Encyclopedia
The true consumer understands that a museum is just a building you walk through on your way to the gift shop. If that describes you, this is your site: Over two dozen museums collaborate on one huge virtual storefront chock-full o' culture toys, books, CDs, art, jewelry, etc. A pop-up book of Van Gogh's house (where's the cardboard ear?), melt-o-media Dali clocks, Edward Munch inflatable Scream
, a cool set of Mona Lisa socks -- you get the idea.
NiftyCool.com: Ultimate Kid Stuff
Follow the flying pig into a site for human beings, where they "offer personal (not computer-generated) suggestions (great for aunts, uncles, and grandparents) from real people with real children." Sections on wheels, games, discovery, wild life, make believe, Furnishings, Creativity, and more. This is a Pokémon-free zone! They're selective about the toys they feature -- mostly soft, safe, and creative.
Elegant gifts shipped with the giver's personal message in a red envelope. According to the site, this is a tradition, a "sign of luck and prosperity." Easy to navigate and filled with cool gifts for all ages. Includes a section called "911 Gifts" for last-minute shoppers (get it?), a whole section on gifts appropriate for corporate environments, and a gift reminder service.
With a huge collection of movie posters from all over the globe, this is the spot to find that rare creature -- the original, the unusual, the film poster that won't be found on the walls of Blockbuster or in any college dorm. Buy the Godfather
one-sheet in Japanese or the rare blaxploitation poster you've been searching for. They're not cheap, but hey, these aren't just any old movie posters -- this is art.
This is the site for robot fanatics. You can order kits, books, videos, and toys. Especially cool are the Lego Mindstorms Robotic Inventions System and R.A.D., a high-performance radio-controlled robot you can use to terrorize the neighborhood cats. (If you prefer cyborgs to robots, they do sell Philip Dick's classic novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
, filmed as Blade Runner
, which is also available on video from this site.)
Over 30,000 marine products for folks who're crazy about boating, fishing, swimming, etc. Products include floatables, fishing accessories, guides and charts, engine parts, and other boating equipment, sails, and lashes -- everything.
24 Hours, 7 Days
A catalog of weirdly diverse products including ant farms, kaleidoscopes, maps, rock collections, math games, etc. ad absurdum. The design's a little lame but quite serviceable. And note the disclaimer on the "policies" page: "This page has no paper waste products." Ha!
Inspired by Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes, the Zome System is more flexible and adaptable than geodesics. With zome tools, you can design many shapes, not just domes. Even better, you can dip your zome constructions in bubble stuff to make some really strange bubbles. You might want to start with the Pioneer Kit, with 125 parts, and work your way through the next four sizes before you go for the gusto with the Researcher Kit: 1,406 parts! Build molecues, homes, whole planets
! Blowing bubbles all the while, of course --