The Web Hostess: Share your best online shopping secrets

Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 2, 2009; 1:00 PM

A weekly chat about the best ways to kill time online. Our Web Hostess, Monica Hesse, sifts the Internet so you don't have to, searching for meaning, manners, and the next great meme.

This week, share your best holiday shopping sites, from Amazon to the obscure.

Web Hostess chat archive.


Monica Hesse: Hello, everyone, and thanks for stopping by for site suggestions that will hopefully allow all of us to complete our holiday shopping from the comfort of our own laptops.

We want to hear about any site you've ever purchased a gift from. Be as specific as possible (i.e. "Gift wrapping was free but there were no Hanukkah options") about what you liked and what you didn't. And if you're looking for a specific gift, let us know and hopefully someone here can help you out.

In the spirit of anti-consumer Christmas, I'm also asking for online experiential gifts that cost little to no money. What might that look like, you ask? Perhaps you're going to introduce a loved one to a great new Web series, teach them how to play an online game, or stream a movie on Hulu and watch it together. Whatever warms your heart and preserves your bank account, we want those suggestions too.

Merry Internets, and let's get going.


Forks, Wash.: Hey Twihard - Where is the best online store to buy a Edward doll? Team Edward...yeah!

Monica Hesse: You mean something like...this?

Twilight New Moon Edward Figure Series 1

Hot Topic is still the best place for Twilight paraphernalia in general; though there are several versions of Edward, Jacob and Bella dolls floating out there. I know that Tonner dolls was planning on releasing a line of the entire Cullen family, but I haven't personally seen them.

You also might check out a blog like Twilight Lexicon, which frequently posts the newest swag.

Other suggestions, Twilight chatters?


Arlington, Va.: I'm a big fan of Consumerist's Morning Deals feed, which aggregates sales from across the Web.

Monica Hesse: The good thing about Morning Deals is that it contains sales on everything from computers to clothes, meaning it's nice if you're not sure what you want to buy or for whom. Just browsing can spark some ideas.

If you're looking for something specific, it can be a little hit-or-miss, like walking into Filene's in search of a specific dinnerware pattern.


Olney, Md.: For great values, can't be beat for warm weather clothing, coats gloves, jackets, boots etc for men, women and even children.

Also I love the bargains I find in drugstore items at

Both are quality online retailers with great customer service and return policies. They are consistent in both quality and service. I have ordered from both of them for over five years.

Monica Hesse: Any Web site that lists a Gilette Fusion Power Razor next to a 3 ml syringe and a Featherlight Walker with Loop Brakes is fairly awesome in my book.

Thanks for the introduction to Hocks!


New Orleans: is a good site if you're looking for unique T-shirts. Does any one know of a site out there for baseball caps?

Monica Hesse: Let's find out...does anyone?


Washington, DC: One of my facebook friends -- a woman I went to high school with but am not close to now -- is constantly posting self-pitying, passive-aggressive status updates. Like, "XXXX can't believe how ridiculous some people can be. Anyway, happy thanksgiving!"

Is there some polite way to be like, um, this does not make you look good? Or should I just 'hide' her?

Monica Hesse: Interrupting the regularly scheduled program for this, which appears to be an increasingly common complaint around the holidays.

First, a PSA to your friend: Um, this does not make you look good. Facebook is not the venue for oversharing passive aggressiveness any more than a crowded subway platform is. Adding the holiday cheer does not absolve you.

As for what you should do, yes, I think you should say something -- in private, not on her wall -- and it should come from a place of concern, not shaming. This template works, but adjust it to fit your own needs:

"Is everything okay? I've noticed some pretty angry Facebook posts on your wall, and since people don't usually use Facebook that way, I thought there must be something really wrong."


Bethesda, Md.: I bought "gifts" for my grandparents and parents at Oxfam America Unwrapped . I'm pretty sure the gifts are just symbolic, and the donations go wherever needed, but I got my mom an emergency toilet. I love charitable giving!

Monica Hesse: Please describe this emergency toilet. Send links, if possible.


Looking for nice conservative dress: I'm not much of a dress person, mostly I own a few flowery summer dresses. I have one long dress that isn't formal but not casual eitrher that I wear in the winter for the couple occasions that I need to wear a dress... but after a few years its time to find a new one. Wear can I find a nice, long, conservative dress that isn't formal but not too casual either? I've tried searching online but haven't had much sucess. I need one for our family photo (husband in suit & tie, our sons in khaki pants and white shirt), as well as for upcoming holiday dinners? Help please!

Monica Hesse: I forwarded this question to our shopping goddess, Holly Thomas, and here's what she had to offer. Let us know what you think.

"Personally I love the Clara maxi dress from Target's new Limited Edition collection. She could wear it with a cardigan if the neckline isn't conservative enough. Target also has a kimono-sleeved version that's available in 4 colors and currently on sale."

(Target Limited Edition Women's Clara Maxi Dress - Calypso Red)

Holly's suggestions are reasonably priced, which is great if you're not typically a dress-wearer.


Alexandria, Va.: I can't speak to the quality of this site, but it seems like an unfortunate name for a site that sells gifts to kids: Wicked Uncle.

Monica Hesse: I guess we can be grateful it's not "Dirty Stepfather."


Arlington, Va.: My favorite shopping blog (which links to the original seller) is Mighty Goods: Shopping Blog. There are filters and I love the things they come up with. Sometimes they have themes (such as Mother's Day; Bridesmaids Gifts; etc.)

Monica Hesse: Thanks! I'm not familiar with it, but I look forward to checking it out.


free online gifts: Not totally free, but over the holidays I've been lining my husband's and my shared Netflix queue with movies I know he wants to see. It's my own personal sacrificial gift, and he's happy when they arrive.

Monica Hesse: Ooh, I love this, especially if you give it a festive spin. "Honey, get ready for the Eight Days of Rocky." Every night, we will light a candle and watch Sylvester Stallone beat up a new opponent.


Washington DC: Just a quick thank you to the person who suggested Oxfam America. I have been looking for something to get for my socially conscious future mother-in-law, who never wants "more stuff." This is perfect!

Monica Hesse: We're making connections here, people, that's what it's about.

In a similar vein to OxFam, I've been on the receiving end of gifts from Heifer International. Knowing that I helped acquire a goat for a family in Romania brought immense pleasure.


Delicate question: Lingerie as a gift: bad idea, or terrible idea?

Monica Hesse: 1) What's your relationship with the recipient? If your answer contains any variation of "sister" or "daughter," then it is officially a terrible idea.

2) Is the lingerie really for her/him? Or is it for you? If it's for you, then yep, terrible idea.


Bethesda again: The emergency toilet-- check it out:

Monica Hesse: Better, even, then my Romanian goat. Thank you.


Paris, France: I'm not sure if I learned about from reading about it here but the holidays are a great time to share with the family.

Great for a laugh for everyone - even the rebellious teenager in the family! Check out the Holidays category.

Monica Hesse: And don't forget to balance it with My Parents Were Awesome


Washington, D.C.: Any good sites for getting gift ideas? Not retail sites per se, but sites that help you figure out what to buy for someone based on gender/age/$/interests?

Monica Hesse: You might want to check out one of the shopping blogs posted earlier.

And if you have a specific gender/age/$/interests in mind, feel free to throw it out here. The chatters might have some ideas.


Vienna: I just bought coffees as a gift on code MERRY-VERY for free shipping!

My standbys--, and for clothing and for books and many other things.

A pet peeve of mine is when Web sites won't let you use an international credit card! For example, I can shop with my card when I'm back in the U.S. visiting at a Bath and Body Works store-- but they will not take the very same card on their website -- so no BBW Mother's Day gifts or anything like that!

Monica Hesse: Merry-verry! Excellent insider info!

I wish I had a workaround for sites not accepting international credit cards, but I've never personally run into this. Anyone out there know a workaround?


20783: I love Perpetual Kid and for unique gifts. Also, sounds boring, but it's not! And of course Etsy. Oh, and Shirt.Woot is a great place for Threadless-like tees, too.

Monica Hesse: These all look like excellent possibilities for the hard-to-buy-for late teen/early 20s demographic.


L.L. Bean: I am a year-round fan of L.L. Bean, but especially for Christmas because they usually run a special offer (including now) of a $10 gift card if you spend a certain amount -- last year it was $50, but now it's only $25. It's good for a few months, and I know I'll buy something else during that time. (I will admit that I break out my buying into several smaller purchases to get several of the gift cards.) I think they also offer free shipping around Christmas (I don't pay attention because I always get free shipping with an L.L. Bean Visa).

Monica Hesse: (I will admit that I break out my buying into several smaller purchases to get several of the gift cards.)

Using the system without abusing it. Nice.


Washington, D.C.: I do most of my shopping from Amazon but would love to hear about good gift guides: realsimple, boing boing, giver's log all have good ones. Any more?

Monica Hesse: Sure -- C-Net has one for techie gifts, Treehugger for enviro-friendly presents.

Other ideas?


Lizard Island: Are Tareq and Michaele Salahi the poster-children for Facebook now?

Monica Hesse: The poster children for everything that can go wrong on Facebook. The question is who they stole the title from, and what could possibly go up the ante for scandal.


Philadelphia: Monica, I do not mean to be pedantic but only six "Rocky" films thus far have been made: Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, Rocky V and Rocky Balboa. So setting aside as many as eight days to watch them would probably be somewhat excessive, unless of course one or more of them were watched over one or more nights, or one or more of them were watched more than once. My comment of course has very little to do with the subject of today's discussion, but in the interests of accuracy in the media I felt compelled to highlight this slight inattention to detail, however insignificant it might seem. Humbly yours, Sylvester Stallone Or, all six films for eight consecutive days.

Monica Hesse: Which is clearly what I meant, Paul.

Really, Philadelphis, as if I would suggest just one Rocky movie per day.


Rockville, Md.: "since people don't usually use Facebook that way, I thought there must be something really wrong."

I was on Facebook for about a month and never did figure out why some were on my "wall" and others not. Finally I told a woman that she seemed dumb to think "America" was just the USA and she said I was the worst person ever in her life. So I quit. But what was I missing, if anything?

Monica Hesse: It sounds like you were missing the right friends.

Still, no one can ever take away that "worst person ever in her life" title, so you got that going for you.


Donor in D.C.: Donation gifts I love to give are symbolic adoptions (Friends of the National Zoo's Adopt a Species and Save the Manatee Club, trees/books/computers/cook stoves/more from Trees for Life, microfinancing for people in developing countries (Root Capital). There are so many great ways to support organizations that could use your dollars while honoring friends and family members (who probably don't need any more stuff). Just pick an interest of theirs and search for a match on a site like Charity Navigator.


Monica Hesse: CharityNavigator is a great site, to help you make sure that your well-intentioned dollars are actually doing good things. An emergency toilet, however, is always a good thing.


Silver Spring, Md.: The best tech sites are and Monoprice. Tigerdirect is sort of good, too. But newegg has frequent reliable deals and excellent service. Monoprice is for when you want really geeky stuff at cheap prices.

And has truly funny stuff for your geek buddies. They're local-ish, so shipping is very fast. This seems like a good place to also mention Woot

Monica Hesse: Woot, Paul. Woot. Actually -- that site's great for so many more people than gadgeteers. Anyone who's into quirk or silliness will probably have good experiences.


Emergencia! Gift picker?: Is there an online site you can go to and fill out a quiz about someone and they can give you some ideas of what to buy? I am stumped on my brother and want to get him something fun and unique but all the ideas I've seen out there for someone like him are like "electronic golf ball washer" or some crap like that.

Monica Hesse: Not one that I know off the top of my head. I'd try picking through some of the excellent sites people have suggested today. If you still have no luck, email me directly at, and I'll try to find such a miraculous gift picker.


Washington, D.C.: Just wanted to tell people about Network for Good.

You can get a gift card from there which allows the recipient to choose from among a myriad of different charities. It's a great way to give to others & do some good at the same time, especially if you aren't sure of the recipient's favorite charity.

There are lots of options, so no matter what they are passionate about, there's a charity to support that. I feel like there's a Shelia Dixon joke here somewhere.

Monica Hesse: The charity for needy embezzling mayors everywhere.


Free fun do-it-yourself gift: Elf-yourself at

Monica Hesse: Deeply spiritual and traditional activity.


Donations for the holidays: I always make donations to the DNC for my Fox News-loving relatives. It warms my heart to know that I'm raising their blood pressure.

That's just the kind of guy I am.

Monica Hesse: I'm sure the RNC also thinks you're a nice guy, when it receives the donations in your name.


Crofton: has a personality quiz that I have found helpful for gift ideas.

Monica Hesse: ...and we will all be visiting it immediately after this chat.


Monica Hesse: That's all for today, folks. Thanks for chiming in with your excellent suggestions. We've still got a few weeks of shopping, so if you happen upon something fantastic, stop by and share it with us next Wednesday!


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

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