Exclusivity is part of what makes shopping for luxury goods so alluring. But not everyone lives near Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive, and the Web is opening glitzy new doors.
Retailers that had sniffed at allowing mere mortals to click through their jewels and perfumes are scrambling to get wired--though high-end mainstays such as Gucci and Tiffany are still just planning their online shops.
There's no intimidation factor in an online visit--you need not be dripping in diamonds and designer clothes to get good service. Pour yourself a flute of champagne and surf the Web for Cartier watches and Porsche toasters in your sweat pants. You can pretend to live the high life from your efficiency apartment.
Start at LuxuryFinder. com (www.luxuryfinder. com). You'll get great virtual service the moment you click it on--you can even find advice on chartering private yachts and buying an island. The stuff of the good life is a mere click and a credit card away: $480 pashmina shawls, $375 silver-plated toast racks and $145 Russian beluga caviar.
To spare yourself the parking maze at Mazza Gallerie, visit the Neiman Marcus site (www.neimanmarcus.com). The cyber version of the Dallas-based specialty store is happy to sell you monogrammed linen guest towels, Steuben crystal doves and cashmere sweaters sized for babies.
Scrolling through the alligator wallets and designer candles, I was struck by some disadvantages about shopping for the high life online. Your friends can click on to find out exactly how much you shelled out for that box of French gardenia soaps. And when purchases are shipped, you don't get any of those fabulous status shopping bags to add to your stash. In some cases, if you return a gift to a site that does not have a bricks-and-mortar location, you can get only a merchandise credit. And the sites don't necessarily answer questions about gift wrapping and return policies.
But never mind. What's really fun is finding a product not sold anywhere in town. No time for a transatlantic hop to London to finish your holiday shopping at Harrod's? The posh Knightsbridge retailer opened its Web site (www.harrodsonline.com) on Nov. 7. The initial selection of offerings isn't really that luxurious, which makes it accessible for those without their own English country house: I could not resist ordering a vinyl-coated cotton tote bag covered with West Highland terriers, at $10.95, for a special little girl on my shopping list who owns a Westie.
What, none of the Stilton cheeses, giant cabbages or delectable smoked Scottish salmon from Harrod's famed food hall? "There are still a lot of products that your government is not comfortable with us shipping from the U.K.," says Peter Willasey, Harrod's corporate communications director. "You're going to have to jump on a plane and smuggle that in."