In addition to straightforward internet shopping, the Internet can be quite helpful if you are trying to track down a specific product, look for the best deal, or would like to know how useful other parents have found a product to be.
There are a variety of parenting sites with ‘chat rooms’ or `discussion forums’ where one can ask other parents for information on their experiences of particular products. These can be a useful source of independent viewpoints on items before you purchase. Try these sites.
UK Parents Lounge — this is probably the best-known and trusted parenting sites. Click the ‘UK Parents Recommend’ forum (under ‘Our forums’ on the home page) to see parent to parent suggestions on product choices. The ‘Buy and Sell’ forum gives parents the chance to trade second-hand baby goods.
An alternate way to hunt for products on the web is to use a shopping directory site, or the shopping directory area of a general site (usually referred to as a ‘portal’ site). These websites don’t generally market baby products themselves but present a ‘gateway’ to retail sites in the region in which you’ve got an interest. Ukchildrensdirectory.com, for instance, in addition to offering basic information on services such as childcare, includes a ‘Baby and nursery’ section with an extensive list of links to retailers specialising in baby products.
A lot of those featured are small, independent companies, and this can consequently be a valuable way of locating more unconventional products unavailable in the high-street shops (e.g. handmade children’s furniture, softplay products and fashionable clothes). Shopping directory sites that don’t specialise in children’s products will frequently have a section relating to kids — for instance, try the ‘Toys and games’ section of topoftheshops.co.uk for links to many toy store internet sites.
One somewhat different directory website is babydirectory.com — you click on your region on a map of the UK, and a regional baby directory appears. Click on the kind of item you are searching for (e.g. ‘Christening gowns’) for contact details of relevant local shops. Some of these local directories are more comprehensive than others, so how useful the site is depends on your geographical area as well as your knowledge of baby shops in the area.
Others promote themselves exclusively as `cut-price’ retailers — www.discountbabyequip.co.uk/, for instance, says that it sells all products at up to 50 per cent discount on recommended store prices. Please remember with such bargains you might not obtain the newest designs at large discount rates, however, you might discover a good deal on end-of-line and past-season goods. Another option would be to try an Internet auction site. Ebay.co.uk has quite a comprehensive ‘Baby Items’ section on its site, offering mainly second-hand clothes but also ‘nearly new’ pushchairs, nursery furniture and many other baby goods. Keep in mind that in case you are unhappy with the goods you purchase from an auction site, since you are effectively purchasing from a private seller, your rights tend to be more limited than if you buy from an online or ‘bricks and mortar’ store.
It’s also possible to make an online search to assist you to research prices for the best deal on a product — especially baby’s room products.
Babyworld.co.uk — click the ‘Product Talk’ discussion forum to exchange opinions about baby products or ask for advice. You need to sign up as a member before you can read any messages on the forum. The site also publishes magazine-style buyers’ guides, which give general advice, and there are test results on a selection of products.
There’s also a ‘Swaps’ forum. There is even a forum devoted to reusable nappies (`Cloth nappies’), with lots of advice and nappies to purchase. Anybody can see the messages, however, you must log in to post or reply to a message.