Now that the Christmas shopping season is upon us, many of us are wondering what on earth we should get for people in our family. “What do I buy for my ultra-trendy teenage niece?” you might be wondering, or “How can I get something that will wow Uncle Ron without breaking the bank?”
Interestingly enough, this is an area where blogs shine for usefulness, because you can easily get a lead on some really interesting gift ideas that will leave your niece thinking that you’re a bit less of a loser than everyone else in the entire universe and, at the same time, put a big toothy grin on ol’ Uncle Ron’s face.
Here’s the exact process I used this year to find some smashing gifts for several picky family members using nothing more than blogs, a few price comparison sites, and a bit of time. To show you how it works, I’m going to walk through the procedure using three test cases:
Grandmother is an old-fashioned woman who believes that a woman’s place is in the kitchen serving her family – and that’s where you’ll often find her. If you ask her what she wants, she sighs and says, “Oh, nothing.” If you press her, she’ll look around the room and name something completely off the top of her head.
Uncle Ron is a retired farmer who sold his farm years ago and now lives in a beautiful house in the city. His tastes are upscale, but he has a bit of an old fashioned nature to him. He’s got a quick wit, is a bit sarcastic, and usually sees the utility in things. He almost always holds court at family events at the card table, talking politics and sipping on a drink of some sort. In other words, your favorite uncle.
Katie is a fifteen year old strong-willed young woman who is so firmly entrenched in Generation Z that you can scarcely make heads or tails out of her. She’s always listening to her iPod and seems to have a general disdain for the entire world. She’s your only niece, but she makes about as much sense to you as Fidel Castro riding down Wall Street on the back of a hippopotamus.
So, let’s begin.
Find out what their favorite things are.
Don’t worry at this stage about what they might want, just make a list of a few of their favorite things. Give a call to someone living with them if you have no idea, or maybe pay them a visit and see how they spend their time or what they show you that is interesting to them. Don’t ask for gift ideas, because you’ll make the experience of opening the gift much less of a surprise.
Grandmother spends all of her time in the kitchen, so you think that something convenient for her kitchen might enable her to sit down a bit more with the family. You stop by to pay her a visit and you see her mixing some cookie dough up with a fork. Of course, you eat
a couple a half dozen a dozen of the cookies before you leave. A new cookbook might be okay, but something that can mix that cookie dough faster might be even better, so you don’t have to spend all of your time talking to her back while she’s busy at the counter. The spending cap on Grandmother is quite high; if you find a very expensive item, there are always plenty of others that are willing to go together with you to buy it.
Uncle Ron is rarely seen without a glass of Johnnie Walker Black Label; he even brings a bottle to family events and tries to get everyone to drink a glass with him. Thankfully, he can hold his liquor well, except one should avoid talking politics with him in the late evening; last Christmas, he referred to your brother-in-law as a “rotten liberal hippie” and threatened to beat him to death with a golf club for stating that everyone in America should get top quality health care for free. You decide on something golf or scotch related for him. Uncle Ron is especially close to you and gives stellar gifts, so I often spend as much as $60 on his Christmas gift.
Katie basically doesn’t speak to anyone. You give your sister a call to see what’s going on with her and all you hear is that Katie spends all of her time listening to old ’70′s records in her room and playing her acoustic guitar. On the good side, she’s apparently paying much more attention to her appearance; on the bad side, she’s dressing like Woody Guthrie. You decide that a couple CDs of good modern folk-type music would be a good gift for her, as your spending limit is $20 for her.
Specifically search blogs for these topics.
You head over to Technorati and Icerocket to try to find some potential gift ideas. At this time of the year, people are beginning to post “best of” lists, so the goal is to find a few of those and compare them. The primary goal is to find many independent references to the quality of a particular item with the goal of figuring out the type of item and the make of the item. Another advantage of blog searching is that bloggers often make organic connections that comparison sites won’t necessarily make, plus a perfunctory look at a blog can quickly tell you whether or not it is written by a company, whereas product reviews are often impossible to truly read.
Grandmother‘s idea seemed clearest, so you search for “best mixer” dough at Technorati (to avoid music mixing devices) and find two distinct references on cooking blogs to KitchenAid making the best mixers, so you narrow her gift down to a KitchenAid mixer. Searching simply for KitchenAid confirms this. So, you’ve decided that this year, you’re going to get Grandmother a KitchenAid mixer that will tear through pretty much anything she might ever want to mix in the kitchen.
Uncle Ron would probably appreciate a good bottle of scotch, so you search for “best scotch” to see what you find. After reading a number of posts about different people’s concepts of best scotch, you find several references to Caol Ila as a great tasting and moderately expensive scotch. Following their recommendation, you decide to get Uncle Ron a bottle of Caol Ila scotch for Christmas.
Katie is apparently heavily into folk music, but you get a general sense that she might not be impressed with your collection of Peter, Paul, and Mary records, so you search Technorati for “best folk” 2006 and “best folk” 2005 to find some of the best new folk music releases. The names Laura Cantrell and Devendra Banhart come up over and over again as you read through the listings, so you decide to look for CDs by both of them.
Use product review sites to narrow this down to specific items.
Now that you’ve got a pretty good idea of what you’re buying for each person, use some product comparison sites to narrow it down to a specific item. I find that the old standby, amazon.com, works very well for most items. though many people swear by sites such as bizrate. At this stage, we’re mostly just concerned with finding the exact item for each person; later, we’ll worry about the best price for that item.
Grandmother deserves a high-end KitchenAid mixer for her kitchen. After reading tons of reviews of different KitchenAid mixers, you decide on the KitchenAid KSM150PSCR Artisan 5 Quart Mixer for Grandmother this Christmas, even though the first price you saw makes you quickly dial some other relatives and ask them to go in on it with you. It’s a gift that suits her passion; making wonderful soul food for the whole family.
Uncle Ron is getting some good Caol Ila scotch for Christmas. After reviewing several sites on scotch (like scotchwhisky.net) and looking for a variety of recommendations, you choose to get him a 12 year old bottle of single malt Caol Ila scotch, which will apparently fit within your price range and won the gold medal at the San Francisco Spirits competition. Sounds tasty; maybe Uncle Ron will pop open the bottle over a game of bridge and give everyone a taste.
Katie will be receiving a CD or two by Devendra Banhart and Laura Cantrell. You found several stunning reviews of Humming by the Flowered Vine and Cripple Crow, so these are your top two choices for her. If they’re relatively cheap, they might both fall within your budget. You’re kind of concerned that she may already have them, but if they’re good, she will appreciate the thought and be able to trade them for others.
Use price comparison sites to find the best price.
Now that you have very specific items in mind to buy people, it’s time to use price comparison sites to find the absolute best deal you can. I recommend using Froogle for this purpose, as it is very good at narrowing things down quickly.
Grandmother‘s KitchenAid KSM150PSCR Artisan 5 Quart Mixer costs $329.99 at the local kitchen supply store, but can be had from iKitchen for $239.99, according to Froogle’s results. You could find even lower prices, but iKitchen seems to have a solid reputation as a seller of kitchen implements. Just that quickly, you’ve saved at least $90 on an amazing gift for Grandmother – and softened the blow on the wallets of a few grandchildren, too.
Uncle Ron‘s 12 year old bottle of single malt Caol Ila scotch can be had from the local liquor store at $74.99, but can be obtained from Premium Home and Garden for $44.99 according to Froogle, a savings of $30. Many other retailers also offer it below the $50 mark, so a bit of research into shipping might uncover a better deal. Ol’ Uncle Ron will be goofy again this Christmas, it seems.
Katie‘s CDs are also cheaper than the local music shops. Humming by the Flowered Vine and Cripple Crow can both be had new in the shrink wrap for about $20 total (after shipping) on eBay, as discovered by Froogle. A few bids now will mean that your Christmas gift for Katie will be ready well in advance of the big day.
In short, careful use of different avenues of research on the internet, when combined, can isolate stellar gifts for family and friends while also finding stellar prices. In short, follow these four steps to excavate great gifts this Christmas:
1. Figure out what they like (but don’t ask directly what they want) by calling or visiting them
2. Determine a great idea for them by using blogs and blog search engines like Technorati.
3. Break it down to the exact item via product comparison sites, such as amazon.com.
4. Get a great deal on the item using comparison shopping sites like Froogle.