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ONLINE HOLIDAY SHOPPING GUIDE

Greeting Cards

November 16, 2000|BETTY BABOUJON, betty.baboujon@latimes.com

Sending e-cards for the holidays? How convenient--and how in the spirit of . . . Scrooge. Free virtual cards might beat signing 109 paper cards, but you know it's just not right. Besides, some sites will do the writing and mailing for you.

Greeting cards in paper form are tougher to find online than the free virtual kind. Still, they're out there. You can go two ways: Have the cards sent to you or have the site fill in your message and send the card to the recipient. Personalization and mailing services generally aren't available for boxed sets of cards, though.

You'll find boxed cards at the sites of big-name makers--Hallmark and American Greetings, to name a couple--and online booksellers such as Amazon.com. Individual cards are also available there, but several specialty sites have a wider range of choices.

Best site to shop: http://www.agreetingcard.com

Best site to buy: For boxed cards, http://www.americangreetings.com; for individual cards, http://www.agreetingcard.com, which has a detailed list of categories (from belated birthday to sympathy for the death of a pet). Americangreetings.com has a good selection of individual cards too if you want one-site shopping.

Convenience: You can do your card shopping, message writing, addressing and mailing all by keyboard. Only glitch was Agreetingcard.com apparently crashed while my order was being processed, but a later try came off without a hitch.

Customer service: I didn't need it. When a site works, that's service enough.

Shipping and return policy: Americangreetings.com (through http://www.sparks.com) charges $1.50 to $5.95 for shipping on cards you send to yourself. It ships within 24 hours via the U.S. Postal Service. For cards mailed to someone else, add to the cost of the card 50 cents for handling and $1 for personalization; Agreetingcard.com includes UPS shipping in the cost of the card (in my case, $2.99 for the card, including shipping, plus 75 cents for personalization).

How it compares with offline: It's not quite the same as browsing through shelves filled with cards and quickly picking the ones that catch your eye. But when you're short on time and out of stamps, it's a great alternative. It tests your patience, though, because most sites show thumbnail-size photos of the covers, and clicking each one for a larger view can be time-consuming.

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