Christmas Presents: Done and Dusted

Wouldn’t it be great if someone came up with an app for your phone that would allow you to fast forward through the weeks leading up to Christmas? You could pause for the office party and a couple of nights out with the lads, but ultimately deliver yourself to the middle of the sofa, tucked up on Christmas Eve with your gifts wrapped and stacked under the tree. No fighting the shopping centre crowds, no trying to decipher those peculiar hints from your girlfriend, no stressing over what to get Mum, who never fails to tell you she has everything she needs.

Unfortunately, that app doesn’t exist -- not yet, anyway. But there are alternatives for stress-free gift giving:

1. Consult a personal shopper
Many large department stores now provide a free -- yes, free -- personal shopping service. "We work closely with each customer to meet their needs", says Vicki Butler, a senior personal shopper at Debenhams in Oxford Street, who assures us they can complete your Christmas shopping in about an hour and a half, even if you come in with only the vaguest idea of what you want.

Lucy Francis, a veteran retail adviser at Peter Jones in Sloane Square, counsels customers to think carefully about the lifestyles of friends and family members prior to an appointment with her. In addition, she sets aside time to get to know her clients, assessing their likes and dislikes and getting a feel for their budget before she heads out on the shop floor with them. "By talking through the options with a customer and finding out more about the recipients, we can put together a well-thought-out shortlist."

2. Attend a gift workshop
And if you have no idea? Butler and her colleagues regularly dish out tips and advice at Debenhams’ interactive gift workshops, held on the weekends before Christmas. "We pick out a selection of gifts that will appeal to various family members and others, like your boss", she says. "People usually have a lot of questions and it all contributes to a lively discussion."

3. Go window shopping
If all the personal shopping help in the world still won’t help you figure out your girlfriend’s deepest Christmas desires (and you know you’ll be in trouble if you don’t), Francis’ advice is to take her window shopping. "It’s a great way to gauge the interest of your wife or girlfriend", she says. Still confused? Don’t stress. "If after all your hard work and research she still isn’t happy with her present, shops like Peter Jones will usually exchange it or give a full refund", says Francis.

4. Play it safe
As for Mum, and all your other impossible-to-shop-for friends and relatives, the safest bet is a gift of food or drink, or, for women, beauty treats such as body lotion or a high-end scented candle. For men, you can’t really go wrong with a classic scarf or a smart pair of gloves.

5. Mind your budget
Finally, if your biggest source of stress this year is the economy, rest assured that you’re not alone. Butler confirms that many of her clients this year are worried about how to make do with less. "The thing to emphasise is quality over quantity", she advises. "Think about giving one special gift to each of your loved ones. Buy something meaningful, but affordable. At the end of the day, it will be your thoughts and effort that are really appreciated." That is, after all, the spirit of Christmas.