When I went to the mall to buy a friend's bridal shower gift, the stainless steel wine bucket she registered for was not in stock. So when I looked for her wedding present a few weeks later, I decided to skip another trip to the mall and purchase a gift from her online registry.
Though they vary by site, online registries are basically electronic versions of those found in the department stores. When a couple create a registry, the store maintains a record of which gifts have been purchased for them. With online registries, the store or an affiliated wedding Web site simply posts the information online.
Wedding guests can browse the online registry and usually can purchase a gift directly from the site, almost guaranteeing that the couple will get exactly what they want. But as I found, even though online registries are convenient and even easier to use than most store registries, they are extremely impersonal, especially for such a personal event.
WeddingChannel.com, at http://www.weddingchannel.com, features links to more than a dozen store registries, including Bloomingdale's, Restoration Hardware and Tiffany & Co. Couples must establish registries in the store with most retailers, but some sites--such as Macy's--let them create registries online. Couples can then sign up with WeddingChannel.com to have the various registries posted online.
At WeddingChannel.com, guests can submit a search for the bride or groom and get links to their registries. Each registry includes a listing of the items the couple requested and notes which ones already have been purchased. Guests can then buy a gift directly from the site. Couples can regularly review which gifts have been purchased.
ModernBride.com, at http://www.modernbride.com, works similarly, offering registries for retailers such as Robinsons-May, Foley's and Lord & Taylor.
The Knot offers merchandise from specific manufacturers rather than retailers. Its selection features 700 china, crystal and flatware patterns and includes almost everything a couple could need--from electric toothbrushes to a 2001 BMW Z3 Roadster (in black, white or red) for $31,870.
But the site, at http://www.theknot.com, might not be a good resource for couples who don't know exactly what they want. Despite photographs and descriptions of each product, it can be difficult to tell whether the bath towels are the right shade of blue without actually seeing them.
The site, however, is worth registering with for its "create-a-gift" feature. If a couple want a gift that is not included in the registry--or is too expensive for one individual to buy--they can request that guests give them American Express Gift Cheques to be used toward the purchase.
A couple needing a new computer, for example, could divide the cost into $50 increments. Guests could then purchase one increment for $50, two for $100, and so on. Any Gift Cheques the couple receive help pay for the computer.
The registry at http://www.yourweddingregistry.com is designed so couples can register for anything they want, regardless of manufacturer or retailer. However, as the site is not affiliated with any other businesses, couples must create their registry on their own and provide a list to Your Registry.
The company then sends notices to guests and posts the registry online for a fee.
Based on the number of invitations a couple send out, the fee can range from $40 for 25 or fewer guests to $285 for more than 300 guests. Wedding guests without Internet access can call the company and receive a copy of the registry in the mail.
The site does not allow guests to purchase gifts online, but it includes phone numbers for the various retailers so they can place an order. Your Registry places orders upon request for a $7.50 service fee.
Although registries at most major wedding Web sites are free, couples requesting gifts from smaller stores that do not have their own online registries might find the additional Your Registry fees worth the extra cost.
Couples who don't need any more dishes or linens may choose to have guests help pay for their honeymoon instead. At http://www.yourhoneymoonregistry.com, couples can build a honeymoon package and assign a gift value to each part, similar to the Knot's "create-a-gift." Air fare, for example, might be broken up into eight $100 gifts, or deep-sea fishing might be divided into four $75 gifts.
Guests send their money to the company, which in turn sends the couple a check before the honeymoon. Registration is free for the couples; guests are charged a 15% handling fee.
For her wedding, my friend registered at two sites affiliated with WeddingChannel.com: Macy's and Williams-Sonoma.
After browsing through both registries, I bought the wine bucket, wine coaster and wine guide, all from Williams-Sonoma. Unfortunately, the wine opener I considered buying could not be purchased online.
Since the site, at http://www.wswedding.com, would ship the gifts directly to her, I decided to have them gift-wrapped for an additional $4.25 per order. The site, however, would not wrap the wine bucket or coaster. I felt a little tacky about including a type-written congratulatory note, but I added one anyway.
A few days after placing my order, I received a letter in the mail informing me that the wine coaster would be shipped several weeks after the other gifts. I faced the same problems online as I did at the mall: If an item is not in stock, there really isn't anything you can do about it.
After the wedding, my friend told me she loved the gifts, much to my delight. I still haven't seen them.
Times staff writer Christine Frey covers personal technology.