Christmas catalogue shopping goes high tech
Now that the distraction caused by Halloween is over, we can all get down to more serious things -- such as getting ready for Christmas. As I write this, it’s only 51 days until the fat guy squeezes down our non-existent chimney to distribute lots of loot.
When I was growing up, one of the many things to look forward to as winter set in was the Simpson-Sears (later just Sears) Christmas catalogue. We moved around a lot when I was kid, shuffled from one army base to another throughout Canada. Living on army bases, you didn’t have much access to shopping opportunities, so the Sears catalogue was especially welcome. My siblings and I would pore over its pages, noting the latest toys and sports equipment and wondering how we could convince our parents to get them for us for Christmas.
I’m older now, and haven’t seen a Sears catalogue in years. So I was happy when Sears repositioned its venerable Wishbook as an iPad app. I eagerly downloaded it, hoping to capture some of that old Christmas spirit. Sad to say though, the name is the same, but the experience is very different.
First of all, when you tap on the app, you’re confronted with a legal disclaimer (the first one I’ve ever seen for an iPad app). Who at Sears put the lawyers in charge of this app? The Grinch? When you’ve scrolled through the disclaimer and agreed to give up everything including your first-born child to Sears, you get to the actual app, which opens with a snowy scene and a countdown of the number of days left until Christmas.
The main page of the app features what I suppose is a Christmas tree comprised of little icons that represent various things you can buy. Below this is a picture of a bunch of people and some tools -- which I imagine is supposed to be the utilities/settings menu, except that it never responds to my tapping. If you tap the people though, you get to a bizarre mini-app called “bumpin’ santas”. Only one santa is active and you have to bump your iPad with other people who have the app in order to activate the others. And if you do? You get to watch a video of your santa dancing to a lame and rather sexist rap song. Christmas joy indeed.
The catalogue part of the app has toys, tools, sports, clothing, appliances and all those other goodies I remember from Sears catalogues of old. Unfortunately, it seems the Sears elves have fallen on hard times since those days as the pickings are slim in wishbook. The toy section offers may 20 toys at most. The sports and fitness section is even worse and -- heresy to us Canadians, there is no hockey equipment available at all, though there are no hockey sticks or goals, though there is a $349.99 US hockey table that looks rather cool.
Wishbook does have one nice feature: you can share items via email, Facebook or Twitter (in case you want to let your loved ones know what you’re yearning for). You can check for availability at your local store -- or at least you can if you live in the United States. Us Canucks are out of luck, wishbook insists we provide a five-number zip code. Postal codes are not accepted.
All in all, a disappointing experience. Wishbook does not bring back the magic of Christmas, I’m afraid.
Luckily, there are other catalogues available on the iPad to stoke your Christmas fantasies. Nieman Marcus, the high end American department store offers several catalogues within its NM Editions app (free), including the Christmas Book, the Holiday Entertainment Book and Full of Surprises. Interactivity is limited to scrolling through pages and double-tapping to bring up an order form, but the images are gorgeous and the gifts exotic (a $3,400 crocodile handbag for one). They also have more down-to-earth gifts as well, including $38 hot pink iPad covers. You can order directly on your iPad and have the items shipped to Canada.
The Toys “R” Us Great Big Christmas Book app is fun to look at, but a bit confusing to use. Like the Sears wishbook, it seems to offer only a limited selection compared to what’s available in their actual stores. When entering the app, you have to choose between a “Parent’s View” or a kid’s view. In kid’s view, you have to make a “list” before you can actually browse through the toys, and prices are not shown. In the parent’s view, you see the prices and you can also look at your kid’s lists. The app has a handy store locator function that actually recognizes that some iPad users dwell in Canada. You can send wishlists to other people via email. The one thing you can’t do is buy online from your iPad.
There are other catalogues available for the iPad, including Pottery Barn and Woman Within. And if those aren't enough, an app called Catalogues.com offers 28 catalogues in one, including Home Depot, Ghirardelli Chocolate, X-treme Geek, MacConnection and Petco. It’s a bit finicky to use, but you can shop from your iPad using it.
Happy shopping, and if you're looking for a gift for your favourite Vancouver Observer columnist, I could use an iPad case, though not in hot pink, please.