Online Shopping

A Feast of European Gifts Online


Why do so many consumers shop online? The main reason isn't to save money, but for the sake of convenience. Respondents to a recent survey by researcher Nielsen said the top reason they chose to shop online was the ability to buy things whenever they wanted, followed by the ability to avoid massive crowds—one of the major headaches associated with holiday shopping. Now, thanks to the Internet, people from all over the world can partake of European specialty goods—from fine gourmet foods and designer housewares to kitschy souvenirs. BusinessWeek has compiled a useful list of e-commerce sites that sell authentic European goods with guaranteed Christmas delivery. Some of the sites are operated by U.S.-based importers of European merchandise, while others are based in Europe. Many of the sites presented in our accompanying slide show were founded by European emigrants to the U.S. who craved items they were accustomed to back at home—rendering their offerings not just authentic but also nostalgic and endearing. Bodie and Fou's co-founder, Karine Kong, set up her quirky, contemporary European furniture site after moving to London and discovering that it was nearly impossible to find the stylish home furnishings she was used to back in France. Convenient EleganceParisian Sion Benchimol, founder and president of European gifts Web site Prestige Identity, started his business in 2004 after moving to California and being frustrated with the lack of affordable stylish items. "Our goal is to bring the most elegant European gifts to the American market and make them convenient to purchase online with shipping available within a few days from our store in Los Angeles," says Benchimol. While some of the sites sell useful household items with a European touch, others offer gifts that are a bit outrageous, such as a $1,300 authentic Swiss cowbell. "Hardly anyone buys the gigantic bell, but the small ones do sell well," says Esther Zgraggen, the co-owner of Roberts European Imports. Her husband, Tony, is an expert yodeler and both are both natives of Thun, Switzerland. "We wanted to carry the glocken-style cowbell for the fun of it and also because it reminds us of our country while we're here in America." In addition to these U.S.-based sites, we're also highlighting the growing selection of European retailers that cater to American buyers by offering English versions of their Web sites, prices quoted in dollars, and hassle-free delivery options to the U.S. Though European Web sites may have initially lagged behind their American counterparts when consumer e-commerce took off in 1997, they have certainly caught up. These days, many are even grabbing market share away from domestic sites, which can't offer as extensive a selection of a particular country's goods as a foreign-based site can. Scandinavian TouchSwede Jörgen Bödmar, for instance, started his online Scandinavian Design Center, which sells Scandinavian minimalist furniture for the home and office, back in 2003. At the time, e-commerce in Sweden was "ice cold" and Bödmar thought it was the perfect window of opportunity for his site. Today, Bödmar says business is booming, not just in Sweden but across Europe. What's more, sites like Bödmar's are doing booming business across the Atlantic. He says Americans are among his top clients these days. "They just love Scandinavian design, and because there aren't many furniture outlets devoted exclusively to it in the States, they turn to my site." For a look at 17 sites specializing in European gifts that you can still order in time for the holidays, see our slide show. Also check out earlier slide shows about German Christmas markets and European holiday lights.
Leona Liu is a reporter in BusinessWeek's Paris bureau.

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