OPINION

Welcome to Cyber Monday

Well, today is your first day back (if you live in the U.S.) from the long Thanksgiving holiday, and you are likely still suffering through a bit of a food coma hangover and are wondering where your waist went. Trust me, it went on a long vacation and probably won’t come out again until summer — or it may be gone for good.

Today is Cyber Monday, a day when most of us have historically decided to get online at work to do our Christmas shopping. This is when we look at what’s left of our savings and kiss it goodbye to purchase a bunch of stuff we hope our loved ones will appreciate. I’ll suggest some end run plans like giving a gift card (sales are often better after Christmas) and buying Apple products, I’ll point out some online sites I recommend.

I’ll close with my product of the week: a social network for your neighborhood.

Pulling an End Run

How about a gift card? Bank cards aren’t that great, but a number of the vendor cards are actually pretty good and if you pick the right one, they are often greatly appreciated — particularly for folks like your mail carrier, FedEx driver and UPS driver. The one that has worked the best for me is a Starbucks card that you can pick up while you are grabbing a latte.

For other cards, head to a site called ScripSmart which ranks all of the cards. You’ll find that the best bank card is the American Express card if you want to provide the greatest latitude, but you’ll also find that in terms of aggravation, there are a lot of vendor-centric cards that provide less of it. I should point out that one of the top-rated gift cards is the Jack in the Box card, but I can’t figure out for the life of me why I’d spend money to piss someone off. I think I’m just irritated because I’m not allowed to eat there anymore.

By the way, if you are shopping with a credit card, Consumer Reports evidently recommends American Express as well, because it will cover you for up to US$300 on anything you can’t return. Something to think about… .

Amazon Prime

If you aren’t an Amazon Prime member by now, you missed a meeting. This is the service that now provides unlimited streamed movies, free Kindle books, and free two-day shipping to members. Amazon kind of had me at the free movies, but I love the shipping.

Amazon is the only pure play online store that made the nice side of the consumer reports Naughty or Nice list this year. If it fulfills an in-stock gift purchase, it will ensure that it gets there in two days — and Amazon will not only ship it for you, but also put it in a box and wrap it (for a fee). Since I like doing none of this, it is my best friend for Christmas, and not just because I’ve been a Kindle addict since the first Kindle.

The new Kindle Fire is basically a front end to the Amazon store, so you can shop wherever you are and really blow out that old debt limit on your credit card — so be careful. Amazon’s return policy is considered one of the best, and it typically has a decent selection and stock. Do realize that weather and timely shipping don’t always cooperate with each other, though. I’d set a deadline of the 15th in order to make sure stuff remains in stock and arrives on time.

Amazon’s gift card ranks higher than the best bank card, suggesting it is an option as well.

The Costco Experience

Folks often don’t think of Costco, but I follow customer satisfaction closely, and Costco typically scores at the top. Consumer Reports uses this outfit as its gold standard when it comes to purchases and returns, as the store will almost take anything back and often extends the standard vendor warranty up to two years at no extra charge.

The selection is good, and it has a decent online store, but you’ll have to do your own wrapping — so, given the time, I suggest you actually go to a store if it has what you want in stock locally.

Unfortunately, one thing that sucks about Costco is its gift card — but given the nature of this store, I think it would send the wrong message anyway. While you are in Costco, you can pick up that two-year supply of pickles or five-year supply of mustard you’ve always wanted. This points out the danger of Costco, as I can’t seem to get out of that place spending less than $300 for stuff I generally didn’t even know I wanted before I arrived.

Apple’s Strategy

There are two things about Apple products you should remember, particularly because the iPad is this year’s “it” gift. First, when people ask for an Apple product, they really want an Apple product — and if you give them something else, they’ll likely be pissed. Second, the best place to buy an Apple product is from an Apple store, because it not only does a better job of ensuring the thing will be delivered on time (Apple Stores seem to get preferential treatment on stock) but also will engrave it for free.

Think of having “To My Douchebag Sister” or “To My Smelly Brother” immortalized on your sibling’s favorite device forever. Yes, revenge is best served on an iPad. If you buy online, Apple will both wrap and ship the product to the location of your choice. And if $500 is a bit steep for a Christmas gift, then consider an Apple gift card. It just makes into the top 10 percent of gift cards, even though the Apple store, for some reason, didn’t make the Consumer Reports nice list this year.

Wrapping Up: Happy Cyber Monday

Anyway, I want to wish you a late Happy Thanksgiving and my best wishes for good hunting on Cyber Monday. You’ll likely find me testing out a few Starbucks’ gift cards today as I enjoy my morning cup of coffee and do my own online shopping marathon. I’m afraid Apple and Amazon are both going to like me way too much this year.

Product of the Week: Nextdoor

Product of the Week

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been trying out a number of alternatives to Facebook and Google+ that better target certain areas of interest and don’t appear to have the super social sites’ privacy problems.

One of the most interesting is Nextdoor, a social network for your neighborhood.

Given that there are a lot of times we can help — and need help from — our neighbors, but often don’t have the time to get to know them before the event, this service is a great way to keep people who are near each other in contact.

You use this social network to stay informed about events that affect the neighborhood, to report things that are of concern, and to ask for help with regard to local resources like repair or cleaning services that can be trusted.

nextdoor logo

We tend to have street parties a couple of times a year that this will help facilitate, but mostly it just keeps us all in contact and makes it more likely that if any of us needs help, it will be there for us.

You have to initially set up and recruit a minimum number of folks to get started, but Nextdoor helps you do all of that, and by the time you are done, you likely will have a community.

This might be particularly handy for folks who already have a homeowners association. The result is kind of like your own private Facebook, except more secure: Nextdoor authenticates that you actually live in the neighborhood before it lets you enroll in the neighborhood site.

This time of year is all about family, friends and neighbors, making Nextdoor a great choice for product of the week.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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