Tis the (catalog) season


’Tis the season, all right. Not for Christmas, of which I’m not a fan, but for catalogs!!

You don’t have to come by here very often to know I’m a fan of online and catalog shopping. More like an addict, actually. I can’t remember the last time I shopped at a mall, probably because I don’t like having to drive that far, walk that much, and deal with all those hovering sales people. And once the serious Christmas shopping begins, I won’t go near a mall just because of the masses of shoppers. Been there, done that, for many years.

In the comfort of my own home, however, I can browse online stores to my heart’s content. And being a creature of the old school, I love the masses of catalogs that have begun to fill my mailbox. Some will actually be dog-eared and set aside for further consideration, while most will end up in the trash can (to be recycled), some more quickly than others. Most will come from businesses I’ve shopped with at one time or another, but a few will be total surprises, from enterprising companies that got my name from so-and-so’s mailing list, who may have gotten it from so-and-so, where I bought, or at least thought about buying and/or wish-listed a particular item.

Wait. Don’t go getting all indignant on my behalf. We little old ladies who live alone still enjoy getting real snail mail. I hate junk mail and get a ton of it, but catalogs are decidedly not junk mail. They are little wish books.

Just this week, I got catalogs from the following merchants:

  • Woman Within: Women’s sized clothing. This one got canned without being opened. I bought one thing from them and thought it was really cheap quality. Doesn’t anyone make good quality, nice-fitting clothes for plus-sized women? Tents I can buy at a sporting goods store — and better quality at that.
  • SmartPak: Pet supplies. I’ve shopped with them online once or twice. With pet stuff, I buy from anyone who has what I’m looking for.
  • White Flower Farm: Live plants and greens for holiday decoration and gift-giving. Ordered some gifts from them last Christmas.
  • Enstrom’s Almond Toffee: Fabulous toffee! Great for gift-giving or treating oneself. Don’t know how they tracked me down again, several years and several moves later, but I’m sure glad they did.
  • Lands’ End: Okay, I buy stuff from them, and from L. L. Bean. And probably more than half of it gets returned, since good fits are a guessing game with online shopping. I appreciate their catalogs if there is something new in them. But good grief, people! Give it a rest! Both send multiple catalogs and I often get several a week, year ’round. Their seasonal catalogs, women’s catalogs, Christmas catalogs, outdoor catalogs, men’s catalogs (retribution for once ordering a man’s jacket in search of a better fit). And, oh yes, the kids’ catalogs — what every grandma needs.
  • Doctors Foster and Smith: More pet supplies. Have ordered from them off and on for years.
  • Hanes.com and One Hanes Place: Bet you can guess what these guys sell. For T-shirts, sweats, and underwear, I often find it’s easier to go straight to the source. OHP also carries Bali, Playtex, Champion, and a few other brands. Both send way too many catalogs, however, and there’s a lot of duplication. Again, just remind me of the new stuff occasionally, okay?
  • Dell: Okay, I drool over some of the spiffy new stuff, like colors and designs for laptops. But my average for a new computer is about every three years and involves extensive research beforehand. Save your money, Dell. I like you, but I’m not due back for another two years or so.
  • Plow & Hearth: This one shows up several times a year with seasonal ideas, and I enjoy it for gifts, home decor, and garden gear. Even though they were part of that scam thing I wrote about a while back, their products still tempt me mightily.
  • HearthSong: This one is totally new, out of the blue. It’s nothing but wonderful-looking, unique toys and games for kids, and I’ve a hunch some Christmas things for the grandkids will be ordered from this place.
  • WorldPoints Rewards from Bank of America: Nice looking stuff in this one, but my 900 or so points won’t go very far on, say, that 11,500-point digital photo frame, the cheapest thing they offer. Save your money, BoA. You need it a lot more than I do right now.
  • Uncommon Goods: This is a fun place to shop for inexpensive, unusual gifts for that person who has everything (and at my age, that’s everyone I know). Lots of handmade, green, and/or recycled products. Things you don’t see in every Tom, Dick, and Harry’s catalog. An interesting place to browse. I’ve been meaning to recommend it. (And no, I’m not missing the irony of a green merchant sending out paper catalogs; I’m just not in environmentalist mode today.)

Still to come and eagerly awaited:

  • Sundance: Ah, the Sundance catalog. I can barely afford even to read this one (the prices make my eyes bleed), but as an aficionado of fine printing, I’m compelled to say they do beautiful work. Lush, creamy stock; excellent photography, layout, and design; well-written product descriptions. Heck, with their prices, they only need to sell a couple of items a year to finance their catalogs … which do seem to be coming less often in our tightening economy. They do special separate catalogs for their jewelry, and those I keep and drool over for months. A few times over the years I’ve splurged on their least expensive rings or earrings (not the cheap imports they’ve begun to carry for some reason). My favorite artist among their jewelry designers is Jess MaHarry, but in looking up the correct spelling of her name, I’ve just found that she has her own website, JesMaHarry.com. Methinks I should stop paying the middle man.
  • Red Envelope: Still haven’t gotten this one. A great place for gift ideas and shopping. I first learned of them from a sister-in-law who can afford to shop almost anywhere. I’ve always been pleased with gifts ordered — or received — from them.

Then there are the guys who don’t clutter my mail with catalogs or charge me higher prices to pay for them. They just provide great products and great (I really must find some new adjectives) service from their websites:

  • Zazzle: I recently told you about Zazzle for all kinds of customized, design-it-yourself products, from business cards to T-shirts to coffee mugs. You can upload your own photos or designs or work with resources provided on the site. And you can save your masterpieces for future editing or purchase(s).
  • Zappos: Keeping with the Z theme, Zappos. It’s been a while, but I think I’ve mentioned them before. Shoes! All kinds, all brands, all sizes. A mind-boggling selection, made quickly accessible with great search functions — by brand, size, style, color. Comments and ratings from buyers about the features — good and bad — of each product. Clothing and accessories? Those, too. But wait, there’s more! The absolutely best thing about Zappos is the service. S.E.R.V.I.C.E! Free shipping and free returns. ( I was recently reminded how nice this is when I had to return a pair of boots to another retailer at a cost to me of $17.) Not sure about a size? Order both and send one back. Or return both and order a third. (I don’t even wait for the turnarounds anymore; that’s how much I trust them.) Never fear; no cost to you. Prompt refunds, no questions asked. Got a question? Call ’em; you’ll find yourself talking to a real live friendly helpful person. Order standard shipping? You’re likely to get a free upgrade and receive your order in the next day or two (I’ve gotten things overnight). So my question to you is, if you haven’t shopped at Zappos yet, why not? You better have a damned good excuse.

There you go. By now you must be thinking all I do is buy stuff. You’d be wrong. I really can’t afford to buy much at all, and well over half of what I order ends up being returned for one reason or another.  But with Christmas coming up, gift ideas are starting to percolate, and I thought I’d share my info.

(BTW, I know there should be an apostrophe in the head, but WordPress can’t seem to produce a proper one in front of Tis, so I left it out.)

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