Tag Archives: travel

Oprah’s Favorite Things

Oprah Winfrey loves to give. She graciously signed off today after 25 years of daytime television and nearly a decade of her audience-swooning Favorite Things. The blog Jezebel estimates Oprah gave $23,809,050 worth of products since 2002. Not every gift stood the test of time — like Dell’s Pocket DJ MP3 player and J.Lo’s velour sweatsuit — but most have. Let Oprah be your guide for your next gift.


Beauty and Body Care


Books and Magazines

Charitable Gifts

Clothing and Accessories


Food Favorites


Home and Office Furnishings


Kitchen and Appliances

Movies and Television



Give Hotel Comfort at Home

Bring hotel luxury to your home. Several major hotels sell their linens, bath robes, shower heads and even the beds online, including Westin. Six years ago, my wife and I stayed at Pittsburgh’s Westin Hotel, home of the Heavenly Bed and the Heavenly Shower. This bed envelops you in sumptuous white cotton comfort: a Simmons pillowtop mattress, five goose-down pillows, three sheets, down blanket, comforter and duvet. The shower features two heads and offers a curved shower curtain rod, giving six more inches of elbow room. I made sure our home bathroom remodel included a similar curved shower rod. (We chose an oil-rubbed bronze version from Inspirations by Moen instead of the Westin brand).

Browse these web sites for hotel comfort gifts for home. High-end linens make a fine second anniversary gift. (Cotton is the traditional anniversary gift.)

The Well-Traveled Gift: Moleskine City Notebooks

Know someone who’s traveling this summer? While you can’t give them a passport, you can give the next best thing: a Moleskine travel notebook. Moleskine (pronounced mole-ah-SKEEN-ah) makes premium notebooks featuring a black hardcover, thread-bound spine, ribbon bookmark and elastic band to keep the book closed. Beginning in 2006, Moleskine offered pocket-sized city notebook editions, including city and transit maps, plus an index of streets for many popular travel destinations.

I keep a Moleskine Large Sketchbook for drawing up and scribbling down my ideas. I like the notebook’s sturdy feel in my hands with its durable cover and thick cream-colored pages. I’d love even it more as a Paris journal, sketching from a bistro overlooking the Seine.

Top Ten Companies for Customer Service

MSN Money has released its 2009 Customer Service Hall of Fame this month. I’ve listed the top ten below with excerpts from the retailer profiles. Try one of these service standouts for your next gift purchase.

#10. Southwest Airlines
“Low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines attributes its customer-service success to personality… and free peanuts.” Consider a Southwest gift card.

#9. Costco
“The company’s prices have also won Costco fans. Costco stocks its stores with bulk items that consumers can buy at discounts. It keeps its margins low in order to keep prices down and makes up the difference in sales volume.” Shop at Costco.com.

#8. Apple
“If they can’t fix it, and it’s new enough, they’ll often hand you a replacement device free, on the spot.” Visit the Apple Store.

#7. Whole Foods Market
“[Whole Foods] has created a loyal following by committing to sell high-quality food that’s free of many additives and antibiotics that concern health-conscious customers.” Order a Whole Foods gift card.

#6. Publix Super Market
“[Spokeswoman Maria] Brous also attributes Publix’s success to discount programs intended to help struggling families afford the basics.” Purchase a Publix gift card.

#5. Nordstrom Department Store
“The company gives many of its salespeople the latitude to deal with customer complaints without running them up the management chain.” Shop at Nordstrom.com.

#4. Amazon.com
“Amazon considers its free shipping a form of advertising. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Amazon said it had saved customers more than $800 million in shipping costs in 2008.” Shop at Amazon.com.

#3. NetFlix
“Netflix has 58 distribution centers across the country, enabling 97% of members to receive new DVDs the day after Netflix gets their returns, says Steve Swasey, the company’s director of corporate communications. The company ships more than 2.2 million DVDs each day to a network of 10.3 million subscribers, he says.” Give a NetFlix gift subscription.

#2. Trader Joe’s
“Trader Joe’s owes its customer ratings to its cheese, chocolate cake… and the rest of its product selection, says satisfied shopper Lisa Hsu.” See TraderJoes.com for the closest grocery store location. TJ’s does not sell its products (not even their gift cards) online.

#1. USAA
“USAA certainly isn’t your average insurance company or financial institution. Its 7 million members are all in the military, former servicemen or family members of military personnel. Members are stakeholders. They pay premiums and are paid back a portion of the insurer’s profits each year.” If you qualify for USAA services, visit USAA.com to learn more about buying a U.S. savings bond as a kid’s gift. Albeit practical, savings bonds help children understand the power of growing interest.


MSN Money based its top ten on a survey of 3,015 respondents, rating the customer service of 145 companies in 15 industries. Zogby International conducted the survey and also asked which aspect of service was most important. The results (rounded up) are as follows:

  • Knowledgeable staff – 44%
  • Friendly staff – 18%
  • Readily available staff – 15%
  • Flexible policies for return/exchange of merchandise – 9%
  • Service after the sale – 9%
  • None — product is all that matters – 1%
  • Not sure – 1%
  • Other – %1

Favorite Gift Retailers Who Use Twitter (And When They Started Tweeting)

Yesterday I posted to Twitter about shipping my old iPhone to gadget reseller Gazelle. Within 12 minutes, the folks at Gazelle noticed my tweet message, followed my Twitter feed and sent a nice reply.

That’s a great customer follow-up use of social media. Gazelle’s prompt response made me think about other sites I frequent. How many of my favorite retailers are using Twitter? And when did they start posting tweets? I compiled the table below using Twitter’s “Find People” search and MyTweet16, which lists a Twitter user’s first 16 tweets.

Retailers Using Twitter

Retailer Web Site Twitter Use
#1 online retailer in the U.S.
since Feb. 14, 2009
Barnes & Noble
since Apr. 22, 2009
Best Buy
Consumer electronics
since Jan. 28, 2009
since Feb. 24, 2009
Online retailer of custom goods
since Apr. 24, 2008
Online retailer for cooks and chefs
since June 19, 2009
Crate & Barrel
Housewares, furniture and decor
since Apr. 25, 2008
Dean & DeLuca
Fine food, wine and kitchenware
since Mar. 23, 2009
Essentials for college dorms
since July 28, 2008
Edible Arrangements
Fruit arranged like flowers for delivery
since Oct. 24, 2008
Handmade crafts
since Jan. 14, 2008
Buys used gadgets
since Sept. 19, 2008
Godiva Chocolatier
Premium chocolates
since Feb. 6, 2009
Choose from 1.5 million charities for gifts
since Jan. 16, 2009
Microlending for needy entrepreneurs
since July 25, 2008
Department store
since Apr. 27, 2009
Lands’ End
Clothing retailer with iron-clad guarantee
since Sept. 27, 2008
Gifts for reading and writing
since Jan. 16, 2009
Upscale department store
since Sept. 5, 2008
Omaha Steaks
Premium meats and seafood
since June 17, 2009
Sells one share of stock as a framed gift
since Feb. 4, 2009
Online retailer selling surplus goods
since Nov. 20, 2008
Pajamas sent in a hat box
since May 14, 2009
Floral delivery
since May 5, 2009
Largest coffeehouse chain in the world
since Aug. 12, 2008
Sur La Table
Gourmet cooking utensils and appliances
since June 11, 2009
Floral delivery
since Mar. 6, 2009
The Fruit Company
Fruit basket delivery
since Apr. 29, 2009
Online retailer for nerd stuff
since Jan. 26, 2008
Concert, show and sports tickets
since Apr. 14, 2009
Trader Joe’s
Great groceries and inexpensive wine
since Aug. 28, 2008
Travel and lodging
since Feb. 10, 2009
Toy retailer
since Nov. 15, 2008
Uncommon Goods
Unusual home accessories and gifts
since Jan. 24, 2009
Urban Outfitters
Clothing and footwear retailer
since July 21, 2008
Vera Bradley
Seller of brightly patterned bags
since June 4, 2008
Z Gallerie
Home decor, furniture and dinnerware
since June 14, 2009
CEO of the online shoe retailer
since Mar. 8, 2008
Online retailer for custom merchandise
since Oct. 24, 2008

Of the 40 retailers above, grocery chain Trader Joe’s use of Twitter impressed me the most. Nearly all of Trader Joe’s posts are simply retweets of customer talking about TJ’s food and beverages on Twitter. (Jargon alert: Retweets repeat someone else’s message on Twitter — crediting the author — to help spread the message to others. Often abbreviated as RT, it’s word of mouth, Twitter-style.)

Finally, as I’m writing this post, Gazelle sent me another Twitter reply. This time, Gazelle thanked me for my tweet and offered me a 5% bump in value on my next Gazelle gadget trade-in.