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::Friday in Focus

Dreaming of an e-Christmas
Thursday, November 16 2000
by Barry McCall

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The growth in Internet gift shopping is being driven by the growing number of high quality virtual stores.

The concept of shopping from the comfort of your armchair or desk is not a new one. Catalogue companies such as Family Album have successfully been selling items ranging from jewellery to furniture and clothing though the mail for almost a century. Mail order catalogues suited people in small towns in remote areas which were not well served by department stores and other outlets.

In the modern age with people becoming increasingly time-poor the suburbs of large cities can seem remote if it takes more than an hour or so to get to the shops. And the

Internet is filling the breach for many busy shoppers, particularly in the holiday season.

Fresh figures just published by Deloitte & Touche estimate that nearly half of US Internet users will shop on-line this holiday season, spending on average USD264 apiece. According to Amarach Consulting 60,000 Irish people used Internet shopping services last year, and with double this number using Internet banking services at present the shopping statistics are in for a major boost this Christmas.

While the number of Internet users in Ireland is growing reasonably steadily, this is only one factor in the growth of Internet shopping. A more significant factor, perhaps,

is the number of high quality shopping sites now available to people. The starting point for many people when thinking about Christmas gifts is the old reliable book, and possibly the oldest and most reliable shopping site of them all is Amazon.com, or Amazon.co.uk in this part of the world.

Just about any book you can think of is available through Amazon and they offer a gift wrapping service as well. While it can't be as good as the real touch and feel

experience, the browsing facilities on the site are actually quite good. You can browse under genre, alphabetically through authors and so on and the renderings of the book covers are quite good as well. The only problem is that you can't grab a cup of coffee and scan a few pages of an interesting book while you do it.

And Amazon isn't restricted to books, it also sells CDs, DVDs, videos, and other gifts such as MP3 players. The site is particularly useful when buying gifts for friends

abroad as the gift wrapping and delivery are looked after. If, on the other hand, you don't want them delivered individually, it is a good idea to roll your order up and buy several items at one time as this reduces overall delivery charges.

Of course, you can always go to www.eason.ie to get your books from Ireland's leading bookstore. However, the range tends to be more limited than Amazon's and, even with the sterling differential, Amazon does tend to be cheaper for many titles.

In the music area another Irish site worth checking out is www.dmgdirect.com. This offers a reasonably comprehensive list of CDs, videos and computer games at discount prices. However, if it's not a leading chart title or a top selling artist or band you're looking for you probably won't find it here. Also, navigating the site can be a bit slow and a little bit annoying. The site appears to be poorly indexed: if you do a search on an artist such as The Beatles you will get three albums listed, whereas is you browse the full listing of all titles on offer you'll find more than twice as many. All in all it is well worth a look if you're only in the market for the latest U2 or Westlife album.

A bit higher up the spending scale is www.grimesco.ie. This is the e-shop of Grimes & Co of Dublin's South Great George's Street and it offers a range of gifts covering

areas such as furniture, gardens, pets, home office, kitchens, and barware. Prices tend to be in the hundreds of pounds rather than the tens and there is an IEP10 delivery

charge to anywhere in Ireland. A slightly irritating feature of the site is the fact that prices don't appear with the listed items and you have to click on each item to find the price. But if it's something very stylish you're looking for and you have the budget it's well worth a look.

Particularly useful for the festive season is www.wineonline.ie which, as the name suggests, allows you to buy wine over the Net. It is no exaggeration to say that this site is simply excellent. It is extremely easy to navigate, is full of information about wine for both the absolute beginner and the budding sommelier and, most

importantly, it is totally snob-free. You can look for wines in almost any price range from a fiver to a few hundred pounds and you can search buy variety and country as well. You can also accept the advice of WineOnline which appears to be pretty good. For stocking up with good value cases of wine this Christmas, it's hard to find a better

place, and it has an excellent gift list as well.

For those relatives or friends abroad who would appreciate authentically Irish gifts delivered to their doors this Yule, there are two sites well worth a look --

www.bentlysofireland.com and www.houseofireland.com. These sites have fantastic ranges of Celtic jewellery, crystalware, hand knits and so on. The Bentlys site can be

a little slow and not fun to navigate while the House of Ireland site unfortunately has everything priced in dollars -- but that's the market it's aiming at.

For anyone who has ever been stumped for a gift for a new mother or a newborn child www.babybabog.ie is Godsend. How many babygrows does one baby need? And any more bouquets of flowers and the poor mother is likely to develop late-onset hayfever. Babybabog offers a range of gift boxes for babies, toddlers, kids and parents. They all contain high quality hand-made Irish gifts such as candles, jewellery, wooden toys, picture frames, linen christening gowns and so on. Prices start at IEP29.99 and go up to IEP170 and beyond. Anyone with friends in a certain age group should bookmark this site.

Indeed, the same gift buying difficulties are presented by people moving to new homes. With the cost of houses these days, young homebuyers are lucky if they can afford a kettle let alone the other electrical necessities of modern living. For wedding gifts or housewarming presents of this nature look no further than www.prizebuy.com. From stereos to steam irons, from kettles to cookers, Prizebuy has it all. And the site is wonderfully laid out so that search results are delivered in order of expense -- cheapest first and so on. And if you're thinking of treating yourself

to a new appliance or two to easy the Christmas cooking this year, this should be your first port of call -- after all, a cooker is a cooker and a deep fryer is a deep fryer.

Prizebuy lets you buy them without leaving your chair and delivery is free anywhere in Ireland.

These are just a few of the sites which are worth a look this Christmas. Others which should be checked out are the Indigo on-line store at www.indigo.ie, www.buy4now.ie -- a portal which allows you to shop on-line at Arnotts, Superquinn and Atlantic Homecare among others, and www.fly2thesun.com for a post-Christmas holiday surprise.

But a personal favourite is www.vintagevending.com. Ever wonder how people get their hands on genuine 1950s items such as Wurlitzer jukeboxes and rocket shaped cocktail shakers? Well this is the site for you. Just USD5,000 will get you a jukebox while around USD30 will get you the wackiest cocktail shaker you've ever seen -- delivery costs are expensive though with USD50 being quite typical. Still, if you want to pamper yourself with something totally ridiculous, look no further.

Barry McCall is at

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