The process of compiling a Christmas gift guide is arduous.
No really, bear with me here. There are endless press releases to scour, sites to browse, gift suggestions to evaluate all so that your shopping is made that bit easier. OK so you have no sympathy whatsoever, do you? Sorry.
One thing that this process leaves me with is a list of fabulous sites - not the big chains or department stores, we all know they have an array of gift suggestions - but wonderful independent ones. Boutiques stocking tiny little designers you've never head of before, but suddenly want everything they make. Online toy stores that plunge you into a whirl of nostalgia and desire to spend your afternoons dressing up toy mice (no? just me then).
So here, then, in no particular order, are ten of the best sites for browsing. Sites that, if there was any justice in the world, ought to make the kind of profits that major high street chains churn over. Support them, because they are ace. And almost certainly pay all their taxes.
1. Best for toys
They want brightly coloured plastic tat, things that eat batteries and make headache-inducing loud noises. You just want them occupied quietly by themselves while you slosh back the mulled wine (sorry, is that just me again?). Cottontails has a huge array of toys which might just provide a happy middle ground. Stocking gorgeous brands for babies and toddlers like Moulin Roty and Maileg, the toys here are built to last and have a wonderful retro feel to them. Takes you back to your own childhood.
2. Best for stationery heaven
"Office supplies for the modern workplace" says the site. That doesn't go anywhere near describing the wonderful array of super stationery, from beautiful laser-etched wooden pencil cases to vintage postage stamps via books, grown-up toys and art. A treasure trove/ time sink of a site.
3. Best for new designer finds
A virtual shop packed with wonderful finds from independent designers, from jewellery to homewares via art prints and accessories. Browse for hours, then start planning a visit to their real bricks-and-mortar store in Cumbria.
4. Best for stylish homewares
Gorgeous design-led home gifts with prices from stocking fillers to more luxury items, there's also a bricks and mortar shop in Bristol. They also have some lovely jewellery pieces.
5. Best for quirky finds
Somewhere between a blog and a shop, it's not going to win any prizes for user accessibility but the small choice of products - mainly homewares and stationery - is fantastic.
6. Best for kid's clothes
The antidote to all things twee, this wonderful site is packed with brilliant and quirky prints from Scandinavian brands galore, as well as some homegrown favourites like the fabulous Tootsa MacGinty. Plus, the second-best-written captions around.
7. Best for jewellery and accessories
Sourcing, and more importantly supporting, independent jewellery makers around the world, Boticca gives them a platform to display their wares and their ethos. There are beautiful gifts for men and women, though the emphasis is probably on jewellery. Browse for hours and create your own virtual wishlist.
8. Best for talent spotting
Another site that helps small designers and makers get their wares out into the world, while retaining their autonomy. You can search by creator, style or even material.
9. Best for culture vultures
You know how museums always have the best gift shops? Well this is a kind of virtual department store bringing in the kind of things you'd pick up in a museum, only you don't need to leave your sofa.
10. Best for browsing
Rigby and Mac have three bricks and mortar stores in London, next to each other but with their own distinct look and feel. The online store cleverly replicates this, so you can browse by theme, but you can also just have a good old hunt around the treats, from homewares, jewellery and kids toys to decorations for the tree.
Missed any gems? Please send me yours, I'd love to see them.
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