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Gifts With Points, plus The Trouble With Toys.

Gifts With Points

‘Tis the season for giving — so why not get a little something for yourself along the way? Thanks to Netcentives, a Web-marketing company based in San Francisco, Web shoppers can give themselves frequent-flier miles. Through its ClickRewards site, Netcentives has teamed up with roughly 30 online merchants — including garden.com and 1-800-FLOWERS — to let shoppers earn miles on seven major airlines.

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It’s a pretty sweet deal. You can earn up to 350 ClickMiles when you buy garden equipment from garden.com, or 300 ClickMiles when you buy selected bouquets at 1-800-FLOWERS. Once you’ve registered, the site maintains a running total of your balance. To redeem ClickMiles for frequent-flier miles, just visit the site, fill out your frequent-flier information, and request that the points be transferred to your airline. Your ClickRewards account adjusts automatically.

Coordinates: ClickRewards, www.clickrewards.com

The Trouble With Toys

The sight of toys under the Christmas tree can bring tears of joy to the eyes of children. The sight of a toy store can bring plain old tears to the eyes of parents. Toby Lenk, 37, founder and CEO of eToys (www.etoys.com), a Web retailer based in Santa Monica, California, believes that the Web can eliminate some of your worst holiday nightmares. The Web site was launched in October 1997 with a selection of 1,000 toys from 100 manufacturers. Today its product line includes more than 6,000 items.

Lenk gave Fast Company a look at Christmas future — at why and how parents will buy toys over the Web.

Misery Loves Company “The number-one thing we do is what I call the ‘miserable-experience substitution.’ Dragging a crying kid out of a toy store is not a fun thing. And even if you don’t have your kids with you, toy stores aren’t much fun. In most families, both parents work. So most parents shop for toys on weekends — which creates huge crowds. On the Web, you don’t have to stand in line.”

Beyond the Treasure Hunt “The selection of toys in most physical stores isn’t that great. Lego sells a couple hundred different items. In any given Toys “R” Us, you might find half of those items on the shelves, even though the store ‘sells’ them all. With one central database, we can carry all of Lego’s items all the time. We may not have everything in stock, but we can take a back-order request and then send an email when the item arrives.

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“Then there’s the problem of ‘hot’ toys. On the Web, we can say to people, ‘Look, this thing is gone. Place a back order, and eToys will ship the toy to you as soon as it comes in. Give up the treasure hunt.’ “

Service with a Byte “Perhaps the worst part of going to a toy store is the lack of service. The Web lets us organize our store in different ways. For each product, we give an eToys age-range recommendation: ‘This is best for a six-year-old.’ You can look up alphabetically all of the classic toys from your childhood, like Battleship and Slinky. You just can’t get that kind of service at a traditional toy store.”

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