Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Business

Deal Divas: Avoid the mall with holiday shopping apps and buying local

Head to the malls if you'd like.

There's plenty of selection, of course. It may infuse you with holiday spirit. And you can wait in line for a few hours to sit on Santa's lap if that's your thing.

But those crowds. That parking. The lines. (Deep sigh.)

Looking for some alternatives?

The Tampa Bay Times' Deal Divas have a few ideas.

LOAD UP YOUR SMARTPHONE

Traffic, crowded parking lots and long lines? Nope. Part of the beauty of 21st century living means never having to leave your couch. There are dozens of apps for iPhone and Android that not only let you browse retailers' inventory from the comfort of your own home, but also tell you what to buy and when to buy it. Not sure what to buy your hard-to-please coworker or sister? Gift Professor, an app (and companion website), can generate gift ideas based on survey answers about the intended recipient. Keep track of your purchases and your budget via Holiday Gift List ($1.99) or Santa's Little Helper (99 cents). Use TGI Black Friday to browse ads and circulars weeks before they hit newsstands. Both Shop Advisor and BuyVia alert you when the price on millions of products from thousands of retailers is likely to hit its lowest point — perhaps after the holiday rush. And Amazon Price Check lets you compare those prices to its online inventory.

SHOP LOCAL

Shop local stores for thoughtfully curated gifts in a setting that won't overwhelm. In St. Petersburg, there's whimsical jewelry, vintage clothing and artsy odds and ends at ARTpool Gallery. In Tampa, Oxford Exchange's bookstore and shop sells pretty stationery and notebooks from companies like Winter Park-based Rifle Paper Co. (hello, stocking stuffers), as well as hipster-cool tie clips and gorgeous travel and photography books. Love HomeGoods but don't want to feel like you got your mom, sister or friend something from there? Try Plain Jane, Zazoo'd or Juxtapose in downtown St. Pete, which offer some Florida-centric items for your abode.

WORK THE WEB

Yes, take advantage of Cyber Monday discounts from your favorite department stores online, and yes, now is the time to take advantage of that Amazon Prime account with comped two-day shipping. But don't neglect sites like Etsy and Modcloth if you're stumped for presents. They offer vintage and quirky gifts. Measuring spoons in the shape of a flower pot? An antique vanity mirror tray? Of course. Also, try ShopBando.com for sweet hair accessories, BaubleBar for jewelry, Furbish for eccentric home accessories, and Food52.com's kitchen and garden gifts section.

GET CRAFTY

What, you were just going to give your sister that gift card to the movies in the envelope that it came in? You better step it up and affix it inside a mason jar-turned-glittery-snow globe like the rest of us. There are lots of tutorials for homemade gifts (and for dressing up impersonal ones) on Pinterest. Get an account, search for "gifts," and you'll see what we mean. One of our favorite no-fail projects — for any recipient — is a set of DIY coasters. These can easily be made with a couple of tiles (paint them!), cheap corkboard (ooh, minimalist), or even plain-old felt. Cover them with a favorite photograph or pieces of an old map and … voila! Cheap chic every time.

THE NEW GIFT CARD

What's more thoughtful than a gift card but is just as easy? Try signing up your pals for a subscription-based box of goodies delivered to their door — for three, six or 12 months, they'll have Christmas morning at their doorstep. For beauty lovers, try Birchbox or Ipsy ($10 a month), which deliver samples of makeup, nail polish and fragrances depending on a profile set up by your friend. There are boxes for the dapper man, too, such as Bespoke Post ($180 for four months) and Birchbox Man ($20 a month). If your Secret Santa is a little less into material things, try donating a goat, chicken or even lifesaving vaccines from humanitarian organizations like Heifer International, UNICEF or Christian-based World Vision in his or her honor.

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