Is there a better time of the year than Christmas? Shop windows are dressed in their finest festive garb, eager little faces whisper secret wishes into Santa's ear, the nights are cool and the smell of pine and sound of carols fill the air. But planning for the big day can be stressful: tree decorations, gifts, cards, cooking, parties, family and friends. It's a lot to squeeze in. What if there were a way to create that perfect day, to find that perfect gift and cook that perfect meal without having to leave home? Bring on the virtual Christmas.
Mother of three Margaret Yeh says that while she likes shopping, her goal at Christmas is to spend as little time as possible buying in stores. "I hate dealing with the crowds and the queues and online shopping eliminates all that," she says. "I do almost 100 per cent of my Christmas shopping online. I do still go into stores during the holidays. I love the decorations and the music, but since I have done the bulk of my shopping online there isn't the pressure to find the perfect gift and I can just enjoy the experience."
Yeh is not alone. A growing number of shoppers are turning to the internet to get Christmas all wrapped up. Georgina Verrios, co-owner of online personalised accessories store Apatchy apatchy.com.au says Christmas is a peak trading time online. "People shop the most in the month and a half leading up to Christmas. We do 85 per cent of our sales over that period, and this year sales have been phenomenal."
So just what are people buying, and what are the best sites out there?
"I have bought everything from tickets to Broadway shows to cooking class vouchers," says Yeh. With most of her family living in America, Yeh's go-to sites tend to be the larger one-stop shops like Amazon amazon.com or Barnes and Noble barnesandnoble.com For just books, it's hard to beat The Book Depository bookdepository.com where the selection is huge, prices are competitive and shipping to Hong Kong is free. Companies such as Lakeland lakeland.co.uk and The White Company thewhitecompany.com sell products for the home, alongside gifts of chocolates, linen, scented candles, towels, pyjamas and robes. For the sports-mad, try online giants such as Kitbag kitbag.com or Eastbay eastbay.com where you can choose from a vast array of products by sport, age and team. Kitbag specialises in official team strips which you can have personalised with player names or the name of the lucky recipient.
If you are looking for something more unusual and unique, those in the know say the best place to start is online. "Shopping online allows you that wonderful sense of perusing small shops you don't see on the High Street - places where you can find something new and wonderful," says Verrios. Apatchy falls into this category with its personalised bags and accessories. The products are fun and functional - think backpacks, boot bags, wallets and more.
Apatchy is just one of the brands featured on Notonthehighstreet notonthehighstreet.com The site champions smaller businesses that offer wonderfully quirky products. Some of the other standouts include Pickle Pie creations picklepiecreations.co.uk for personalised iPhone cases, and Incognito incognito-uk.co.uk for bubble wrap calendars or cushions you can write messages on and then erase.
After shopping for presents, it's time to turn your attention to decorations, paper and cards. The White Company and Lakeland have decorations, wrapping paper and more.
For cards there are several sites that let you personalise your Christmas message and even add your own photos. Printed and delivered within a few weeks, these high quality cards are a nice touch. Some of the best include Tinyprints tinyprints.com and Minted minted.com
If you want to minimise your carbon footprint, visit Paperless Post paperlesspost.com for inspired e-cards, or send a gift from Britain-based Concern Gifts concerngifts.org where you can buy (in the name of recipient) staples for communities in need like solar water pumps, plants or mosquito nets.
While most companies will ship to Hong Kong, they often charge, which is something to think about before clicking the order button. The good news is there are plenty of local companies which are also selling innovative Christmas goodies online.
Michelle Lam is managing director of Spoilt spoilt.com.hk a website that offers experience gifts such as kayak tours, racing in Formula One cars or recording your own CD.
"In Hong Kong we celebrate a lot of occasions and [so] there is a lot of gifting. Every time I needed to get a present for somebody I was buying for a person who already had everything, so I started Spoilt in 2010 to offer unique experience gifts," she says.
Local photography duo Tara Jenkins and Imi Bond of Zzzoom Photography zzzoomphotography.com have launched an online store just in time for the holidays.
"We've developed a brand new collection of Hong Kong-themed images," says Jenkins. "People are always on the lookout for images of the city, and often it's not the classic images that really capture the city's soul. People want to be reminded of the everyday details - the dumplings at the dai pai dong, the old men laden with produce in the wet markets, the incense sticks outside the temples. We have tried to fuse these disparate fragments into bold and bright canvases and prints that sum up the city."
Giftwell giftwell.hk is another online shop with gift vouchers for some of Hong Kong's best stores and restaurants, including G.O.D, Gentlemen's Tonic, French patisserie 126 Grammes or Michelin-star restaurant The Principal.
And to finish off your Christmas preparations: food. A growing number of local food outlets have an online presence, and some will deliver.
"For anyone who has spent half a day running to multiple stores looking for the right size turkey, shopping online is a godsend," says South Stream south-stream-seafoods.com co-founder Bradley White.
They sell a large range of products from meat and fish to dairy and vegetables. "In less time than it takes you to get your shoes on and head down in the lift you can order and be finished. Best of all you don't have to lug a 9kg turkey home. It gets delivered right to your door."
White suggests ordering early. "I can't tell you how many people leave their purchases to the last minute and find things sold out or delivery schedules full. We order our turkeys in July and they're usually delivered in October or November," he says. "By mid-December many sizes or brands are already selling out."
Other online retailers include Golden Goose Gourmet (goldengoosegourmet. com) for deli delights, Secret Ingredient secretingredient.com.hk for pre-prepared meals, Pacific Gourmet pacificgourmet.com.hk for meat and more, and big supermarkets like Jasons marketplacebyjasons.com Wellcome wellcome.com.hk and ParknShop parknshop.com
So, if you haven't started to think about Christmas, turn on the computer before you know it perfect gifts will be delivered to your door.