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This article was published on December 2, 2012

5 unconventional places to shop for your holiday gifts

5 unconventional places to shop for your holiday gifts
Lauren Hockenson
Story by

Lauren Hockenson


Lauren is a reporter for The Next Web, based in San Francisco. She covers the key players that make the tech ecosystem what it is right now. Lauren is a reporter for The Next Web, based in San Francisco. She covers the key players that make the tech ecosystem what it is right now. She also has a folder full of dog GIFs and uses them liberally on Twitter at @lhockenson.

With office Secret Snowflake drawings coming up, a hundred family members to get gifts for and the puzzle that is finding your significant other the “right gift” manifesting anxiety in your mind, make no mistake about it: ’tis the season for holiday gifting!

Sure, you could’ve snapped up a bargain on various Cyber Monday deals across the web or planned to hit the “big three” ecommerce stores (Amazon, Etsy and Ebay) for goodies to put under your tree or in a pile next to the menorah, but where’s the challenge? If you’re bored with the same blasé websites every year, then you’re in luck: there are quite a few interesting ways to get your ecommerce on this holiday season.

Whether it’s foreign, custom, or cool presents you’re after, here are 5 non-traditional websites that will give you a little more interesting UX then just clicking the checkout cart button. Happy gifting!

For the locavore: Zaarly

What is it? After making a big splash at SXSW this year, Zaarly is one of the more interesting platforms to purchase your holiday gifts. Built around the concept, “Handpicked People. Amazing Services,” Zaarly vets local folks to offer a variety of goods and experiences, often with delivery included. Users are encouraged to communicate with sellers to customize their orders and clarify any questions — promoting a more community vibe than traditional selling platforms.

What can you get there? Everything from homemade cupcakes to singing telegrams and professional life coaches. Zaarly has a plethora of in-person and home delivery options. It’s important to note that offerings change depending on locale.

What’s so special? In addition to grabbing local goods for your friends and family, Zaarly offers a “Request Anything” option, meaning that customers can place an order for anything and name their own price. This is a perfect option if you’re looking for just the right gift — and you’re willing to pay a little extra for customized service.

For the geek: Shapeways

What is it? If you can think of it, you can probably purchase it at Shapeways. One of the largest 3D printing outlets on the Internet, Shapeways can print just about anything in a variety of materials and colors. Users are invited to not only buy thousands of pre-made and pre-designed figures and products from the website’s marketplace but also put their spin on Shapeway’s designs through a “Create Your Own” section.

What can you get there? Just about anything, really, but popular products include personalized name pendants, geodesic bookends and a mini figurine of Sad Keanu. Everything is priced based on density, size and type of material.

What’s so special? Have we mentioned you can buy pretty much anything? Shapeways and other 3D printing marketplaces are hot because they can satisfy the imagination of even the most fickle designer. For something that is truly 100% custom (and just about equally as geeky), Shapeways is worth a look.

For the big budget bargain hunter: Yumani

What is it? Operating like a sort of reverse eBay, Yumani is a new ecommerce platform that helps sellers come to buyers. Users are able to search Yumani’s extensive database for many products — or request their own — and place a request to sellers. Users can also choose to “Yunite,” which, according to Yumani CEO Michael J. O’Hara, “gives users the opportunity to join up with other buyers and get discounts on multiple orders of products.”

What can you get there? O’Hara says that Yumani gets product from both mom and pop stores and larger factory outlets, thanks to the company’s API. But, users particularly go for and Yunite on high-priced electronics such as tablets and big-screen LCD TVs.

What’s so special? O’Hara says that users who Yunite on a product often see about a five to fifteen percent discount on current electronics — quite a deal, considering these are in stock and current products that aren’t subject to your typical “Black Friday”-esque blowouts. This is a smart “gift yourself” platform, especially for those looking to put a game console or iPad under the Christmas tree.

For the organizer: Quirky

What is it? Part inventor’s playground, part ecommerce platform, Quirky involves its community of creatives to develop useful and stylish at-home products. Users have a say in plenty of options, and can even submit their own ideas to the Quirky product development team. Successful goods earn a space at the Quirky shop and even outlets like Bed Bath and Beyond.

What can you get there? Quirky specializes in efficiency, so be prepared for gadgets with extra storage and modern-looking racks. The overall style is futuristic and minimalist, so these gifts will delight those who are interested in keeping their spaces slick and sorted.

What’s so special? In addition to buying and supporting inventions made by regular people, Quirky also allows users to participate in “upcoming” products, meaning that longtime users can gain influence and have say over what gizmos are developed in the future.

For the traveller: Mmmule

What is it? Part travel network, part barter-and-trade system, Mmmule connects people with international travelers to deliver and exchange goods. Users simply place a request for an item found in one part of the world and offer a particular service or cash incentive — everything from a beer at a local area to a crash pad for a night.

What can you get there? Anything, delivered from anywhere, within reason. Mmmule best works when users have a very specific idea of what they want, like a box of Tim Tams from Sydney or an authentic rug from Morocco. Just be aware that it is not a particularly timely service: Requests will be fulfilled when the right traveller comes along, so no promises that a gift will be under the tree come Christmas day.

What’s so special? Mmmule is one of the coolest ways to pick up a foreign trinket, aside from going there yourself. It’s also a smart route if you’re short on cash and can’t express an exotic export or pay for customs, because users are able to negotiate a service in exchange for the delivery.

Image Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

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