November 2005 Issue  Volume 6  Number 6


Shop Till You Drop--A Lot!

There are salespeople who are knowledgeable and have the patience of Job, but even these remarkable people are taxed by the holiday rush. So, blind and sighted computer users alike often find visiting well-designed web sites a great way to do holiday shopping. Making informed purchases through descriptions of products developed by professional writers can be far more pleasant than trying to get the same information from a salesclerk whose main career goal is to be promoted to the level that will enable him or her to use a pricing gun. In virtual stores, there are no screaming toddlers, roving bands of tweens, or background music that is designed to tame or, at least, deafen the savage teenager. Best of all, you do not need to defend yourself against perfume attacks from cosmetic salespeople who are working on commission. Finally, if you break something in your own home, you probably already own it. So, the only thing you need to worry about dropping is too much cash!

Online products frequently come with useful and detailed, almost poetic, descriptions. For example, gives us the following. "You can take this tie to the bank, boardroom or banquet room for that matter. Woven from 100% imported silk, the C.E.O. Collection tie is accentuated with a geometric pattern of light and dark satiny contrast circles for a dramatic appearance." Evidently, at least one fantasy writer has found gainful employment. It is clear to me that anyone who receives this tie should feel honored--even if it is in hot pink. There is no doubt from this description that the recipient will get a promotion as a result of wearing this tie--regardless of his work performance. (The only exception may be if the recipient wraps the tie around his head and shouts "Banzai" while running through the office, which will probably only lead to a long period of rest.)

Of course, there are pros and cons of having a professional description. Can anyone who did not major in French guess what color aubergine is? And what the heck is celadon? It sounds more like a dinosaur than pottery. Whatever happened to purple and light green? If you are creative enough, you can make up your own color name. (If you do, I suggest using a French accent.) Keep in mind that being able to quote the thread count and fiber can help distract the recipient from noticing that the gift was a virtual blue-light special purchased at, rather than a Ralph Lauren shirt from Neiman Marcus.

Some Internet sites allow you to e-mail a product page to a friend for a second opinion. Doing so may help you spread the blame if the gift is not well received. It is also a bonus for those of us with dual disabilities--that is, neither vision nor taste.

Mistakes Happen

The virtual store is not a perfect world, however. You can make mistakes that you would never make in a bricks-and-mortar store. Although I am a veteran online shopper, one December, I purchased 30 pounds of potatoes for my family of two. I am certain that this would never have happened with a real life salesclerk--if for no other reason than it would require too much work. What I intended to purchase was six potatoes, rather than six bags containing five pounds of potatoes each. Since I am not one to throw away food, had it been October, the trick-or-treaters in my neighborhood would have been sorely disappointed. As it stood, I was the potato supplier for most of the Hanukah latkes on my block. I like to think of it as a creative alternative to the holiday cookie platter. And no, if you are on my shopping list this year, you will not have to worry about getting rutabagas. I am far more careful now. But, the Neiman Marcus thing ain't going to happen either.

These days, my husband and I rely almost entirely on shopping online for the holidays. This is good for us because we can shop when it is convenient--about 5 A.M. for him and 11 P.M. for me. Before online shopping, we were pretty much limited to 7-Eleven stores. Sadly, Slurpees just do not wrap well. The downside of off-hours shopping is that help lines are not always staffed in the evenings or on weekends. But if a site has 24-hour support, those who cover the night shift are usually really happy to hear from anyone who is not in prison.

Gift wrap that is sold online can also be expensive and vary in quality. A hint for the holidays: No matter how cute it may sound online, gift wrap with little pigs on it is probably not the best choice for a Hanukkah gift. My old standby selection is plain silver wrap, which seems to make everyone happy, regardless of the holiday being celebrated, although it cannot be put in a microwave. For relatives over the age of 12, I almost never pay the extra fee for wrapping. I figure that what is good enough for the U.S. Postal Service should be good enough for them. I just tell my relatives to close their eyes and pretend that the gifts are wrapped beautifully. Why not? It works for me.

Goth Gifts and More

If you cannot find just the right gift to share the spirit of the season with your Goth, punk rocker nephew, an online gift certificate is an easy alternative. You may want to try In truth, I have not actually tried the site, but I figure that if it is not accessible and you are into that scene, you probably will not mind suffering a little anyway. I do not know whether that web site really has gift certificates or if the gift certificates will be signed in blood.

There are many more mundane Internet sites that offer gift certificates that can be redeemed for a wide range of products. Not all these sites will carry safety pins that can easily go through human flesh. Even Internet stores have to draw the line somewhere for holiday inventory. Some gift certificates can be delivered via e-mail on a specific date. Others can be delivered on the same day, which can be helpful when a neighbor brings over a homemade gingerbread house, and all you have to give in return is a half-eaten bag of Cheez Doodles. Some certificates must be mailed, which is less than optimal for those who may procrastinate. (Not that I would know anything about that … )

The biggest danger of online shopping is that it does not really feel like you are spending money. However, if you compare the risk of overspending online with that of being trampled to death in a shopping mall, it is not so bad. So, I am forever in debt to those companies that put forth the effort to make online shopping accessible--but I am paying it off a little each month.

To be fair, online shopping was designed to make shopping easy, not to promote frugality. The only thing more risky to the wallet than online shopping may be Internet auctions. At online auctions, you can not only drop a lot of dough, but the amount you drop can grow dramatically without much thought. On the other hand, eBay probably has a section for people who are interested in body piercing, so I guess there is a plus side for everything.

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