Best shopping sites for the hard-to-buy-for

Everyone has the hard-to-buy-for friend/relative, so here are my top picks among online retail sites

Technology trends and news by Faith Merino
December 22, 2010
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Show of hands: who hasn’t started their holiday shopping yet?  Me!  It’s not that I don’t care, I’m just an inveterate procrastinator and try as I might, I can’t seem to do my Christmas shopping until the week before.  This makes shopping for my hard-to-shop-for friends and family all the more difficult, because I like a challenge.  So here is a list of my top go-to websites for gifts for all those people—from the upscale yuppy mom-friend who lives in the gated community to the doesn’t-like-anything outdoorsy friend.

The yuppy mom friend who only eats organic

Today’s yuppy is very different from the yuppy of yesteryear.  Today’s yuppy mom is eco-chic, health-conscious, and will do whatever it takes to get her preschooler into an Ivy League some day.  While yesterday’s yuppy mom brought elaborate, custom-designed cupcakes to her kid’s preschool graduation party, today’s yuppy mom brings a plate of organic grass-fed cheese cut into the shapes of all 50 states (on my grandmother’s grave, I have seen this with my own eyes).  What do you get for your upper-class yuppy mom friend that won’t cost you three month’s rent? 

For this particular individual in your life (of which I have a few), I find that offers the best solution.  The site is populated with a wide range of relatively inexpensive goods that are both unique and—more often than not—environmentally friendly somehow.  Like the baby onesie made from bamboo, or glassware made out of recycled car windshields.  And there’s always some cool story to go along with the item, like the stuffed doll that was handmade in Kenya by local village women (materials are environmentally friendly AND you’re contributing to a depressed African economy! Score!), or the rough, slightly imperfect bowls that were hand-sanded from a single cut of glass by local artists. 

The picky in-laws who re-gift everything they get

A little booze goes a long way, and you’ll have a hard time browsing the Web without tripping over the dozens and dozens of coupons from daily deal sites for 50-70% off a case of wine from some online wine retailer or another.  One that I’ve actually been saving in my back pocket for a while is, which is a timed-deal site that deals exclusively in fine wines.  Despite the fact that I am nowhere near the income bracket that would justify my looking at fine wines, I love browsing this site (I like to plan ahead for the day when I “make it big” and can actually buy nice things). 

The site offers a wide range of award-winning wines for a wide range of budgets (just not mine).  Currently on the site, there is a 1979 Clos du Val zin for $66.99 per bottle (normally an $84 value), or, on the more budget-friendly end, there’s a 2006 Luna Vinyards Napa Valley merlot for $18.99.  The site offers a flat shipping rate of $9.99 per order, but if you order a case of six bottles, shipping is free.  Maybe you don’t like your in-laws enough to buy them a case of wine at $66.99 per bottle.  Buy a case and give out the bottles individually to hard-to-shop-for friends and relatives.  Nothing says “I didn’t know what else to get you so I got you a bottle of wine”….like a bottle of wine. 

The friends who just bought their first house and are expecting an expensive house-related gift

It seems obvious—furniture, rugs, towel sets, kitchen gadgets—but why not be a little more original?  Scan for unique, one-of-a-kind handmade decorative trinkets, furniture, dishware, and more.  Etsy is one of my favorites for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it has such a wide array of categories that you can probably do all of your shopping here, and secondly, whatever you get is virtually guaranteed to be one-of-a-kind.  Pick up a funky, hand-painted coat rack made out of old doorknobs, or a bench for the front porch made out of an old skateboard.  I love this stuff!!  Hand-knitted potholders!!  Also, lately I’ve been getting into those removable wall decals—they make great gifts and Etsy is full of them.

The site also has tons of stuff for other people on your list, including those who have weirder styles.  The geekery section is ideal for those very people—and the “weird” subsection under geekery is even better.  There’s a knit dissected lab rat in an actual dissection tray!  And mustaches on sticks! 

Downside: because it’s all handmade or vintage, it’s not the cheapest of websites, but you can usually find cool stuff on there for a reasonable price, and you can pat yourself on the back for supporting your local craftsman.

The uppity friend who tries really hard to look high-society

A cool website I stumbled upon recently——is perfect for that…or for any art-lover you might know.  The site offers museum-quality prints and photographs from top artists at affordable prices so that anyone can become an art connoisseur.  You can browse among the individual artists featured on the site, or you can select among any of the categories, including benefit pieces, artists by country (American, French, Japanese, Korean, Swiss), price range ($15 and up to $1000 and up), specific collections (Abstract, Figurative, Heritage, etc.), and size (small, medium, large).  Or you can just click on “browse all prints” or “browse all photography.”

 Photographs and paintings start at $15, but most range between $25 and $50.  You might get an 8x10 for $25, an 11x14 for $50, or a 16x20 for $200, and right now you can get $5 off your next purchase when you sign up for the site’s newsletter, First View.  If you can’t decide on a specific piece, you also have the option of purchasing a gift certificate, which you can order as a print to be delivered at the recipient’s home, or as a digital gift certificate.

The obnoxiously athletic outdoorsy friend 

What do you get for someone who’s more interested in “survival” than funky coat racks?  This is a good one to go to Groupon or LivingSocial for, as both sites frequently feature cool activity-based deals, like tandem sky-diving for $99 (a $159 value).  But for activity-based deals in general, the best site, in my opinion, is BloomSpot, which features deals for spa services, travel, fitness, dining, and more.  Some of the deals being offered right now in San Francisco include $125 for a ten-week language course through Cactus Language Schools (a $249 value), and a number of offers from Bay Area Expeditions, including a $49 Introduction to Wilderness Backpacking class (a $120 value), a $49 Gourmet Backpacking Cooking Class ($150 value), and $350 for a 3-day American Safari ($700 value).

I know this list does not cover everyone.  I didn’t even cover the step-kid-you’re-trying-to-win-over or the sister-in-law-who-doesn’t-really-like-you.  But for all those I didn’t cover, check out and find some local sales.

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