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Shopping on the Web

By Noah Masterson

NOVEMBER 24, 1997:  Holiday shopping wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for all the grubby humans competing for the same products, parking spaces and breathable air. Humans. Damn them and their loudmouthed children. With grim determination we trudge to the malls, aware of the misery that will ensue: grouchy shoppers, insipid Christmas music, overworked temporary help, body odor and little elves. We feel helpless at Christmas time. Sure, we could find our gifts at a variety of local businesses outside the malls. We could even make craftsy presents out of yarn and popsicle sticks for our friends and family. But those things involve extra time--something none of us has much of during the holidays.

Relax, fellow misanthrope. If you plan ahead, you can do all your shopping on the Web. And you never have to breathe the stink of Christmas at the mall.

The first thing you should do, after opening your Web browser of choice and locking all your doors and windows, is to visit http://www.abregistry.com/vendor/malls.htm. There you will find a list of online shopping centers, running the gamut from flowers to computers. There's nothing extraordinary here, but it's a place to start.

But if you want to tiptoe outside the mainstream, and you're looking for a gift that says, "I'm a wacky person with a zany sense of humor," you can visit Off the Deep End at http://www.offthedeepend.com. Off the Deep End promises "shopping therapy for the culturally depraved," but it's really more like crappy novelty gifts from the bargain bin at Beeps. (Beeps, for those of you brave enough to leave your homes, is located in Nob Hill at Central and Carlisle.) This Web site's slogan, "... best viewed with groucho glasses and nose" says it all.

If beauty products are your thing--and whose thing aren't they?--you can visit the Online Beauty Salon at www.hollywoodnetwork.com/Beauty/index.html. This is the official Web site of face-o-metrics champ Gloria Martel. Martel believes that we can ward off unsightly wrinkles with a rigorous regimen of facial exercises. She even has a product called The Face Toy, which looks for all the world like (cover your ears, kids) a two-headed dildo. The Face Toy retails at $35, and while it is unclear how this item is used on one's face, I understand that $35 is pretty cheap for a sex toy.

Food always makes a great gift, unless the recipient's religion dictates that he or she fasts for the holidays. But most Americans love to eat, and we even plan to gain five pounds or so over the holidays. Great Food Online, located at http://www.greatfood.com, offers just that: great food, online. Declaring themselves "a retail gourmet food store for people who love fine food," Great Food Online offers delights like gourmet coffees and teas, smoked salmon, green tomato relish and, for dessert, Jungle Bar Brownies, which come in the shapes of gorillas, elephants and other jungle fauna. By sending your credit card number over the Internet, where thousands of hackers can access it and buy themselves new computers for Christmas, these culinary gifts can be delivered to the doorstep of your choice.

Finally, if you're faced with one of those "Secret Santa" deals, where you have to purchase an anonymous gift under $15 and bring it to your office party, what can be more generic than a compact disc? Even better, a compact disc by Bush or Counting Crows? CDnow, which has infiltrated nearly every page on the Web with its advertising, offers CDs at below-retail prices. C'mon--let's put a few more local record stores out of business by shopping online! Bush's Razorblade Suitcase goes for $12.99; that's $3.98 below the suggested retail price. The savings is the same on Counting Crows' August and Everything After. And when you add the $2.98 for shipping, you're saving yourself a whole dollar! CDnow is located at http://www.cdnow.com.

As with any form of mail-order shopping, shopping online comes with its own set of problems. Merchandise could be out of stock, shipped to the wrong address or radically different from the product advertised. But think of the mewling babies, the rosacea-stricken Santas and the stench of crass consumerism hanging thick in the air at your local mall. Then, turn on your computer.

--Noah Masterson

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