I have to be in the right frame of mind before I try to navigate a mall at Christmas time, and that usually doesn’t mesh well with “ok, I need an X, a Y; and oh crap what am I going to get for Z!?!”

One thing I do to alleviate this is scribble down ideas throughout the year. But while this saves me from some of the ‘oh crap’ moments, it makes for a shopping list that’s pretty specific. Like sugar-free-dairy-friendly-raspberry Torani syrup (the hyphenated beverage for non-coffee-drinkers). So now the hard-to-shop-fors are just hard-to-finds. Not helpful. Add the fact that the past few Christmases have come with a baby, morning sickness, or both, and you got it: online shopping.

The perpetual problem is finding stuff that’s already north of the border, otherwise shipping and customs just make it too much hassle. It’s getting easier, especially with Chapters’ expanding gift selection, but Chapters isn’t the be-all and end-all. Besides, it’s nice to support some of the smaller shops.

Great gift guides abound this time of year. Take a peek inside the fishbowl and you’ll find a toy guide, edible giveables, and books for tweens (is it bad that some of these are still my favourite reads?). For some more fantastic finds for kids, check out the Momsense Christmas Shopping Guide (Lego Boardgame!?! Where do I sign?). This little list is just a few online merchants that I’ve used in the past, for gifts of all kinds. Because the big kids need their toys too, and we all know who has to go out and buy them :).

The Geek Chic Boutique

Located in Fredricton, it’s my answer to the oh-so-cool-but-unfortunately-American thinkgeek.com. Great for gadgets, puzzles, and geeky duds. I ask you, where else could you find a USB fridge, a solar-powered orangutan, and a Monty Python Attack-Rabbit, all from the comfort of your own home?

Selections from the Museums of Canada

An interesting little online boutique that carries everything from science toys to silk scarves. A little bit on the pricey side, but good for some of those one-of-a-kind finds. Because let’s face it, I would never have thought to go looking for elephant excrement, but the Poo-Poo Paper we got for my sister a couple of years ago is one of my favourite Christmas purchases of all time.

The Cultured Coffee Bean

I was so excited when I found this store – finally a source for all my Torani needs (my family bought me a soda maker for my birthday, so I could feed my Italian soda addition without hauling cans of bubbly water). Billed as “Canada’s largest online coffee and tea store”, they carry all manner of beans, pods, and related gadgetry. And, thankfully, sugar-free-dairy-friendly-raspberry Torani syrup.

Lee Valley Tools

I love Lee Valley Tools, but it’s a dangerous place. I have more gardening equipment than anyone could possibly justify without declaring ‘farming’ as their primary source of income. But they’ve got some neat gifts, organized by price & recipient. And if you like you can save the shipping and pick up the items yourself at the Express Pickup counter.  Your order is rung-through before you even arrive, and I’ve never seen a lineup of more than 2 people. At Christmas. Sweeeet.

Canada Post

Canada Post has a new shopping tool, which provides a central search function for hundreds of online retailers. While some of the stores are in the states, all products are available in Canada and listed in Canadian dollars – and anything coming from the states is marked as such right in the search results so you can skip those if you chose. Retailers are also vetted by Canada Post using secret shoppers to test things like return policies to provided an added bit of comfort when shopping online.

On a more somber note – this article is a reminder of some of the perils of online shopping. Fortunately, it also includes some useful sites for checking outside feedback an online retailer before sending them your money.

How prominently does online shopping figure in your Christmas purchases? Where do you like to shop online?