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Archive for Wednesday, December 3, 2008

13 Web sites that offer great, inexpensive gifts

December 3, 2008

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Dreading those last-minute trips to the mall to buy the same old gloves and neckties? Then this year, opt for gifts that feel really good to give — and not just because they cost less than $50 and can be purchased online. The experts at ShopSmart, the shopping magazine published by Consumer Reports, scoured the Web to find 13 sites that offer items that can help save resources, reduce poverty, and support artists and crafters here and abroad.

“The holiday season is the perfect time to give back,” said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. “You don’t have to spend a lot, and everyone on your list will flip for these heartwarming presents, from fun jewelry and housewares to tasty chocolates.”

The experts at Consumer Reports WebWatch, an Internet watchdog group, screened all these sites. Internet investigators made sure that each one complies with guidelines for customer service, privacy and disclosure of important information, including contact information.

Fair-trade gifts

These online shops follow fair-trade principles, which means they pay fair wages and ensure good working conditions for the artisans and farmers who create the products in developing nations.

•Originalgood.com supports artisans around the world by selling a big selection of notebooks, jewelry, housewares and other goods.

•Theochocolate.com buys its cacao direct from farmers and grower cooperatives. Their gift boxes carry the Fair-Trade Certified label and Consumer Reports’ taste testers gave them the thumbs up.

• Tenthousandvillages.com is a nonprofit fair-trade group that markets gifts and home-decor products made by artisans in 36 countries.

• Spiralfoundation.org sells home-decor items made from reclaimed or recycled materials, and donates all proceeds to humanitarian programs.

Green gifts

These sites feature fun, eco-friendly gifts. Many are made from recycled or repurposed materials.

• Fao.com has an “Earth Friendly Toys” option with classic stuffed animals and toys made from sustainable materials and natural or nontoxic paint and dyes.

• Btcelements.com specializes in clothing, accessories and home decor for those who are both stylish and eco-conscious, many made from recycled or reused materials.

• Westpawdesign.com has well-designed, green gifts for furry friends, from dog beds made out of recycled plastic bottles to organic catnip toys.

• Earthtechproducts.com offers gifts that save energy or cut down on disposable batteries.

Charitable gifts

ShopSmart suggests surprising and inspiring picky people who already have everything by giving a donation to a charity of their choice or a loan to an entrepreneur they select.

• Networkforgood.org offers several donation amounts ($10, $25, $50 or $100) and the recipient donates the money to the charity of their choice, selecting from more than 1.5 million organizations.

• Kiva.org helps entrepreneurs in developing countries work themselves out of poverty. Certificates start at $25 and the recipient can browse profiles of entrepreneurs, get updates and, when the loan is repaid, lend the money to a different entrepreneur or withdraw it.

• Changingthepresent.org allows gift givers to contribute to a cause close to someone’s heart and create a personalized greeting card to tell them about the donation made in someone’s name. There are hundreds of nonprofits from which to choose.

• Worldwildlife.org offers a selection of more than 80 species for adoption. Donations go toward conservation projects and protecting endangered species around the globe. For $25, the recipient will get an adoption certificate and photo; for $50, he or she will also get a plush stuffed animal of the adopted species.

Handmade gifts

• Etsy.com is like the world’s largest craft fair. The site lets shoppers buy directly from artists and crafters who set up their own online shops and to find out how an item was made and sometimes make special requests.