January 10, 2013, 11:18 AM

Why the web was my best friend this holiday season

How I bought all my gifts this year without ever having to look for parking.

It hit me during a rather mundane task. After procrastinating about as long as lawmakers did in crafting a plan to avoid the U.S. going over a fiscal cliff, I finally sat down last night, cup of joe in hand, in front of our fire and began the oh-so-thrilling chore of sifting through holiday sales receipts.

Oh boy. $79.87 at Amazon.com, $22.47 at Etsy, $33.55 at RibbedTee.com.

Wait...Could it be? No? Really? Yes. It was true.

 I bought every single holiday gift online this year. Every. Single. One. That’s saying a lot for a gal who has to shop for eight nieces and nephews, three siblings, a set of parents and a fiancé.

The thing is, I didn’t mean to. Yes, I write about e-commerce 40 hours a week, so perhaps it was a subconscious gesture. But in most cases it simply made the most sense. Surfing the web helped me find what I was looking for—and in many cases they were pretty specific items—fast, look at reviews, and visit multiple stores to comparison shop without fighting Chicago traffic and giving the evil eye to the jerk who steals my parking spot.

We all know shopping the web is faster and more convenient than getting in a car and toddling around town to those cute little boutiques praying they have the perfect, thoughtful gift. However, I’ve selected a handful of examples from my Santa sack this year that I feel really drive home the argument for shopping online.

Exhibit A: Mission Impossible

After sending the yearly “Please-tell-me-what-you-want-for-Christmas-this-year” e-mail to my family, my brother presented me with a challenge.

Here is the transcript:

“Katie,

You are the perfect person to get me what I cannot seem to find myself.... I have tried LOTS of different plain white t-shirts and can’t find any that I like.  All I want is a white undershirt that

1      stays white after washing

2      holds its own shape (especially in the collar)

3      is soft and wrinkle free (aka nicer looking than plain ol cotton)

Don’t even bother with Hanes, Fruit of the Loom or anything like that.  I have a Claiborne that is close but I’m sure you could find me the holy grail of undershirts.  I just need one. If I like it I will stock up on my own dime.  My size is XL.  Good luck on your mission if you wish to accept it.”

Never one to shy away from a clothing-related mission, I took to the web and Googled “best men’s undershirts”. Up came a digital edition of the men’s magazine GQ with a Top 10 ranking. I then headed to Facebook and messaged a few of my more fashionable guy friends. I even found a blog devoted specifically to this one item: “The Undershirt Guy Blog.” After gathering all the suggestions, I visited the e-commerce sites that sold each of the brands and styles recommended to check them out myself and price compare, keeping the tabs open for each one at the top of my computer screen so I could quickly toggle back and forth. I was done in an hour, settling on a style from RibbedTee.com. My brother loves his shirt and has since purchased three.

Exhibit B: The Case for Catalogs:

I’m endlessly annoyed at the amount of catalogs I receive in the mail in general. That annoyance triples around Nov. 1 at the start of the holiday season. They seem to multiply each week. But one caught my eye this December. Uncommon Goods.

You see, my other brother is slightly obsessed with 1940s and 1950s decor for this new home. He is picky to the point of OCD, spending hours scouring forums and blogs for such items as a perfectly restored Eames Lounge Chair. I cannot afford purchasing such pricey items, but I did want to get him something in my budget that would meet his standards and add a nice touch to his home. Paging through the Uncommon Goods catalog, I was pleasantly surprised with their healthy selection of retro and vintage goods in my price range. I headed online to UncommonGoods.com and found and even wider selection. I stumbled upon a set of coasters and a serving bowl made from real old vinyl records. Perfect. I was sold. And although I wasn’t able to select the artists or albums and my brother isn’t exactly a fan of “The Tennessee Waltz” by Patti Page, he loves the gift nonetheless.

Exhibit C: The Picky Eater:

My fiancé is one of the pickiest eaters I know. His meals rotate between french fries, chicken fingers, and ...french fries. Looking for a small stocking stuffer, I decided to get him the third type of food his palate won’t reject, his favorite snack: sesame sticks.  Those suckers are surprisingly hard to find. They aren’t like Doritos or Snickers bars, gracing the aisles of every supermarket. I've found them occasionally in trail mixes, but those typically include other savory snacks my other half does not enjoy. I’ve found them at supermarket Jewel Osco once in awhile only to return to find they are out or no longer carry them. That’s where Google and Nuts.com come in. A quick search led me to a one-pound bag and they were at my office in two days. They were gone, however, in one.

Exhibit D:  A Special Request:

As I alluded to earlier, I am engaged and in full wedding-planning mode. My 3-year-old niece is going to be my flower girl, but at Christmastime, only her mother knew this. I wanted to find a special way to ask her that also incorporated her Christmas present. Thank you, Esty.com and your never-ending customizable selection of all things wedding-related. Scouring various offerings from independent designers (including a flask that the bride and bridesmaids could slip under a garter!), I found a lady who would make customized flower girl T-shirts complete with the flower girl’s name. There were several options to tweak the design and I could pick the color of the script and the shirt. I called my sister-in-law who asked Aubrey her favorite color. While the designer didn’t carry “rainbow” she did carry Aubrey’s second-favorite color, purple. Done. A thoughtful gift that took less than one hour to find.

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