What's in Store for the Holidays
The best gifts at the best prices at five retailers you can't avoid
(MONEY Magazine) -- 5 big stores. 25 great gifts
If you had unlimited time this holiday season, you'd do all of your shopping at cool boutiques with one-of-a-kind stuff. Ha. The reality: As the deadlines close in, you'll likely join most of America in hitting the biggest-name stores, where you can check off your entire list in one sweep of the shopping mall. That's why the next nine pages focus on the best gifts sold by some of the nation's most ubiquitous retailers. We'll steer you to the deals each stores offers and away from stuff they don't do well. Shop smart, and not only will you please those on your list, you'll also give yourself a rare gift: saving money as you save time.
If you know what you're looking for (and stay offline), bargains abound
WHAT'S GOOD THERE: When a product has been sitting on the shelf too long, nobody's better at pricing it to move than Best Buy.
WHAT YOU WON'T BE TOLD: That doesn't, however, apply to the website. There are far better bargains in person than online.
Panasonic VDR-D300 3CCD DVD camcorder There are fewer things simpler than a DVD camcorder: Record onto disk, put disk in DVD player, enjoy. That extra convenience used to cost plenty, but prices have been dropping faster than Studio 60's ratings. Panasonic's model has a list price of $900, but at Best Buy and some other retailers, you're likely to find it for around $650. $649
Nikon Coolpix S7c digital camera Not only does Nikon's camera take great pictures, but it has built-in Wi-Fi, so your roving shutterbug can e-mail pictures to anyone directly from the camera (no PC required). The S7c also comes with a free one-year subscription to T-Mobile's Wi-Fi network, so your giftee can beam photos from, among other places, any Starbucks. $350
Apple iPod 30GB Yes, the Nano has been getting all the attention, but Apple's full-size model is the better deal. For the same price as an 8GB Nano, you can give a 30GB iPod that will display video (the Nano can't), store more music and go 14 hours without a recharge. And since Apple prices are fixed from coast to coast, Best Buy's as good a place to buy an iPod as any. $249
Motorola KRZR phone The original RAZR was becoming too commonplace, so Motorola made it sleeker, slimmer and more drool-worthy. It also added music-player controls to the outside of the phone (the KRZR will store and play MP3 files) and a 1.3-megapixel camera. And it doesn't matter whether the cell provider is Sprint or Verizon--Best Buy is a dealer for both. $150
Gateway laptop PCs at stores such as Best Buy are often cheaper than those that you customize online. Case in point: This 6-pound., 15.4-inch widescreen laptop, with 1GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive, is perfect for storing tons of music and photos. Elsewhere, expect to pay $1,000; at Best Buy you'll have to shell out only $749. $749
Service and selection can't be beat, but you pay for the privilege
WHAT'S GOOD THERE: Williams-Sonoma's buyers are food-obsessed, and it shows on the store's shelves. Its exclusive items are worth every penny.
WHAT YOU WON'T BE TOLD: Many name-brand items, such as cookware and cutlery, can often be found for less online or at department stores. If it's not a Williams-Sonoma exclusive, you might want to look elsewhere.
Peppermint Bark The perfect seasonal candy--a layer of dark chocolate is topped with a layer of white chocolate. That, in turn, is topped with peppermint candy bits. The result: something sweet and cooling, creamy and crunchy, all at once. Little wonder it's been a Williams-Sonoma favorite for several years. $24
Jura-Capresso Impressa E8 Fully Automatic Espresso Coffeemaker Jura-Capresso machines are considered the Rolls-Royces (or, given their Swiss provenance, the Patek Philippes) of espresso makers, capable of turning out a nicely frothed cup of the good stuff in less than a minute. Williams-Sonoma is known for its commitment to the product line--all the way up to the $3,599 Impressa Z6 with its polished chrome-plated aluminum facade. This entry-level model, however, delivers Jura's expertise for less. The machine grinds and tamps the coffee beans, filters and heats the water and even discards the grounds. $999
Foods of the World cookbook set This three-volume series, published by Williams-Sonoma, focuses on a trio of food-centric cities: New Orleans, New York City and San Francisco. Each book includes accounts of trademark dishes (such as beignets, cheesecake and cioppino, respectively), plus a guide to local markets and restaurants. $60
Descorjet Champagne Opener Ever had a popped champagne cork fly in an unintended direction? This inventive opener takes the risk out of the equation. A single squeeze of the lever is all it takes to remove the cork, which is then safely "caught" by the device. Pair it with a bottle of good bubbly and you have a very celebratory gift. $35
Railway Cake Pan It's a cake! It's a train! It's...the best holiday gift you're likely to find for the young baker (or choo-choo fanatic). This cake pan (not shown; cake is shown below) is molded in the shape of a nine-car train, engine and all. The only thing left for you to do is decorate the finished product (save the red frosting for the caboose). Exclusive to Williams-Sonoma, the NordicWare pan is made of durable cast aluminum with a nonstick interior. $34
A surprisingly good source of gifts. Just don't expect additional holiday services.
WHAT'S GOOD THERE: Actually, a lot of things. Besides the enviable selection of power tools, there's also a bevy of kitchen tech and garden gear.
WHAT YOU WON'T BE TOLD: The chain's cavernous, warehouse-style stores don't exactly say, "Season's greetings." And forget about festive gift wrap; the most you'll get is a plastic bag.
Vector Tough Brite Storm Tracker Perfect for outdoor types--or just anyone you'd like to be prepared in an emergency. This gizmo combines three essentials--a TV, a radio and a lantern--in one handy, rugged package (it has rubber grips and guards to protect against accidents). The radio function includes a weather band with a storm-alert warning. Best of all, while it runs on batteries or electric current, the Storm Tracker can also be hand cranked if needed. $50
Perky Pet Triple Tube Bird Feeder This feeder holds an impressive 10 pounds' worth of bird chow spread over three tubes, which means it can attract three different types of birds at once. But this is no gift for squirrels. The dome is designed to stop them from getting at the feed. Included is a seven-foot rust-resistant steel pole. $40
Firepit, Grill and Chiminea Combo Outdoor fireplaces have been gaining in popularity; this model takes the concept a step further. Handcrafted in India, the 30-inch diameter copper firepit can convert into a grill or a chiminea (free-standing chimney). Look for the copper to age beautifully over time, giving it a nice antique patina. $325
Cuisinart Private Reserve Wine Cellar This stainless-steel, counter-friendly fridge, which holds 11 bottles, is a good bet for the oenophile on your list who doesn't have space for something larger. With eight preset temperatures for everything from full-bodied whites to dessert wines, it also removes the hassle of figuring out the proper settings. (The temperature is manually adjustable as well.) $179
DeWalt XRP Six-Piece Cordless Power-Tool Set All the power tools (almost) anyone will ever need. Included in this 18-volt cordless set are a circular saw, a reciprocating saw, a hammer drill, an impact driver, a cutoff tool and a flexible flood-light. To top it off, they come with a cool contractor-style bag to hold everything. $649
Look for offbeat items and you can get Tiffany cachet for less than Tiffany prices
WHAT'S GOOD THERE: Housewares and accessories are often an affordable way to get something in Tiffany's signature blue box.
WHAT YOU WON'T BE TOLD: It ain't Costco. And if it's jewelry you're after, know that other, smaller retailers may be more flexible when it comes to price.
Crystal decanter If you know someone who's serious about wine, chances are they're serious about decanting it (pouring a bottle into a separate container, which helps separate any sediment and allows the wine to breathe). This hourglass-shaped decanter has all the beauty of Tiffany glassware and is less expensive than similar decanters on the market. $200
Cheese set This two-piece sterling-silver utensil set is in Tiffany's legendary chrysanthemum pattern, which dates from the late-19th century. Want something more contemporary? Tiffany has eight other cheese sets, with prices starting at $295. $350
Tiffany Grand watch Tiffany has been making timepieces in Switzerland for almost 150 years, so the store actually knows what it's talking about. Its latest addition, the stainless-steel Grand reflects the American modernist vibe that Tiffany is known for. $1,550
Frank Gehry orchid pendants Granted, it's not the same as commissioning him to build you an art museum, but you can give a genuine Gehry-designed objet, courtesy of his new collection of jewelry, which is exclusive to Tiffany. $150 and $185
Playing cards One of the easiest ways to get something from Tiffany. This two-deck boxed set is made in shades of green and Tiffany's distinctive light blue. Want to make the gift more special? Splurge and have the cards monogrammed for an additional $10. $30
TOYS "R" US
It's all there, and at good prices, but brace yourself for the crowds
WHAT'S GOOD THERE: Toys "R" Us has a wide selection of must-have toys (like TMX Elmo) that are harder to come by at, say, Wal-Mart, where inventories tend to be smaller.
WHAT YOU'RE NOT BEING TOLD: Long lines and an often-unknowledgeable staff can have you running to mom-and-pop stores for advice and attention.
Fisher-Price Peek 'n Play Discovery Dome It's practically a playroom all on its own, what with the 15 activities built into the collapsible dome. There are smiling critters, mesmerizing colors, inviting textures and toys galore, including a squeaker phone, a shape-sorting mailbox, a ball-drop chute, hanging toys to bat at and even a built-in animal picture book and puppet--all just waiting for some good interactive play. Age three months and up. $45
Fisher-Price Kid-Tough Digital Camera For your baby Leibovitzes. It's got two-eye viewing, dual handgrips, a tough, slam-it-down exterior and big buttons ready for snapping--and erasing--pictures that show up instantly on the color 1.3-inch LCD viewing screen. The camera stores about 50 shots that can be downloaded easily onto PCs and Macs or run over to the local photo shop for 4x6 prints. Comes with USB cord for computer connection and a wrist strap. Age three and up. $60
Tiger Games Designer's World Young Project Runway fans unite! This plug-in game allows kids to create their own detailed clothing line and then pick a model to strut their unique designs on the catwalk in front of a panel of judges. Designers can also keep track of the business side of things to see if their fashion line is a hit or if it's time to say auf wiedersehen. Age eight and up. $30
ToyQuest Blue Man Group Percussion Tubes If you haven't seen Blue Man live, this is the next best thing. Wave the percussion sticks over the eight motion-sensitive tubes and they'll mix in the troupe's signature tubes and drums, as well as steel drums, the xylophone and the marimba. Plug in an iPod or MP3 player and kids can play along to their favorite hits. And if you have seen Blue Man Group live, don't worry--no smocks are required. Age five and up. $70
Nintendo Wii Get your game and your exercise on with this gaming system and its intuitive remote control that allows players to physically swing at pitches, bowl strikes and serve up fierce backhands in the games taking place onscreen. Gamers can also download 20 years of previously released Nintendo titles. Age five and up. $250
146 Best Buy
150 Home Depot
154 Toys "R" Us