Maverick Life

Maverick Life

All I want for Christmas…

For those of you who’ve been too embroiled in Mangaung Madness to notice, Christmas is exactly a week away. The Daily Maverick hit the shops to check out the nation’s bestselling presents of 2012, and bring you some gift suggestions of our own. By STAFF REPORTER.

Earlier this month, the Deloitte year-end holiday survey predicted that South Africans will increase their holiday spending on food, gifts and socialising by an average of 5.7% this year, despite reporting having slightly less disposable income than in 2011. The same survey found that most South African adults surveyed wanted cash as a present, but were likely to be disappointed – the gift most likely to be purchased for them this year was chocolate

Still, don’t give up hope in Santa just yet – if you were one of the 24% of South Africans surveyed who said you wanted a smartphone or a tablet computer for Christmas, you’ll be happy to hear that both items proved to be big sellers in the shops in which the Daily Maverick carried out an entirely unscientific survey of its own.

At Incredible Connection, a shop assistant said that the store’s most popular purchase of the moment was the Kindle, the electronic book reader launched by Amazon in 2007. The popularity of the Kindle has been such that customers are now buying more e-books from Amazon than all hardcovers and paperbacks combined: in August Amazon UK reported that for every 100 print books bought on the Amazon website, customers downloaded 114 e-books. E-book sales were also boosted this year by the “mommy porn” genre spawned by EL James’s bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey, with customers reportedly enjoying the privacy of being able to read the book in public on e-reader without anyone else knowing what it was. Incredible Connection sells Kindles ranging in price from R1,499 to R2,499.

It will be interesting to see whether Musica stores will suffer at the till this year from the new availability of iTunes in South Africa as of the beginning of December. Perhaps iTunes customers show more musical discernment: topping the Musica chart at time of writing for CDs was Now That’s What I Call Music Vol 62 (R149.99), a motley assembly of contemporary music ranging from Katy Perry to local outfit Goldfish. The purchasing pressure exerted by children and teenagers was being felt in the DVD chart, currently led by Step Up Revolution (R149.99, the latest instalment in an American 3D dance movie franchise) and Brave, (R149.99) the latest adventure film from the Pixar animation studios.

A Musica shop assistant said that when it came to gaming, the best-performing console this year was the X-Box (from R2,000 – R4,000), but that the newly-released Nintendo Wii U (R4,000) was also selling well. The Wii U is said to be a step up from previous Nintendo game consoles because it features high-definition graphics for the first time and “better gameplay”, assured the shop assistant. He said that the most in-demand games this year have been Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (R699,95, a first-person shooter war game); Assassin’s Creed III  and Halo IV, so if you have a gamer in your life and you aren’t ideologically opposed to violent video games, those might be safe bets.

Gadget-wise, hip-hop artist Dr Dre was killing it at Musica, with his range of headphones – Beats by Dr Dre – flying off the shelves at between R1,600 and R3,700. A portable speaker from the same range (R4,500) was also popular, another shop assistant explained, because it had “very good sound” and could be operated either through a big battery or being hooked up to a power outlet.

The assistant said that a particularly popular gadget this year was the Prestigio Wifi Tablet, an entry-level tablet with an Android operating system selling cheaply at R999.99. An iPad this ain’t – it doesn’t have a camera, and you need a Wi-Fi connection – but for web-browsing and checking your email on something bigger than a smartphone, it’s an affordable option. The Musica store we visited had just sold out of its stock, testament to the item’s popularity. 

At the iStore, no prizes for guessing what was selling well. An assistant said the iPhone 5 (between R8,299 and R10,799) had been flying off the shelves since its launch mid-December. Gizmodo called it “the best smartphone you can buy”; CNet opined that it was beaten to the title of “best tech product of 2012” by the Android-based Samsung Galaxy S3 (about R7,999 – not available from the iStore, obviously).  Also popular among Apple acolytes this year are iPad Minis (R3,399 – R5,499) and the iPad 4 (from R4,599, praised for being the fastest mobile Apple product available).

Next door at Sony, Apple’s market dominance continued, with a shop assistant explaining that some of the best-selling items were the portable iPad and iPod docking systems, ranging in price from between R999 to R2,499.95. He said that cameras remained a popular purchase, with a particular favourite being the Cyber-shot DSC-RX100, which retails for R8,000. “There’s no medium-range camera that sells well,” he said. “Basically the ones which sell are entry level and top-of-the-range.”

For those of a more outdoorsy disposition, Cape Union Mart was doing a brisk trade in its range of Go-Pro underwater cameras, which take high-definition stills and video footage at depths of up to 60m. If you plump for the most expensive model, at R4,999, there’s built-in Wi-Fi thrown in as well. A shop assistant said another popular present this year was the range of Leatherman multitools, which start at R1,250 for a gadget that includes features like fuse-wire cutters – always useful if you have a bomb to defuse. When asked what her ideal Christmas present from the shop’s catalogue would be, the assistant opted for a pair of Salomon Women’s Speedcross 3 Shoes (R1,399), suitable for running, gymming or hiking and “very comfy”.

Le Creuset‘s range of enamelled cookware attracts fans who verge on the cult-ish in their admiration. These pots and pans aren’t cheap – Google “why is Le Creuset so expensive” and you’ll get more than 1,130,000 results – but those in the know insist that the quality is worth it. At the Le Creuset shop, an assistant said that the fastest-selling item this Christmas was the Buffet casserole, which she attributed to the fact that it’s “the most versatile – you can use it as a pan, an oven dish, anything at all”. The casserole comes in three sizes, with the smallest retailing for R1,598.

At Pastimes, a games shop in the V&A Waterfront, a shop assistant said that the hottest item this year was a S107G remote-controlled helicopter (R299), which he claimed would appeal to anyone between eight and 40 years old. Why was it so popular? “It really flies,” he said. Fair enough. The assistant said the ultimate item on his own Christmas wish-list this year would be the AR.Drone 2.0, which is a quadricopter which you control from your smartphone. The craft has a built-in high-definition camera which allows you to record videos and take photos from up to 165 feet in the air. The recommended retail price for the flying game is R3,699.

And then, of course, there’s always a book. There are new releases out by a host of reliable authors – Peter Carey, John Grisham, John Irving, Zadie Smith, Ian McEwan. Our fiction pick of the year is a debut novel, however – Patrick Flanery’s Absolution, which the New Yorker called “uncommonly thought-provoking”. It is unquestionably one of the finest novels about South Africa in recent years, although it was not written by a South African – Flanery is an American who lives in England. It’s a novel about post-Apartheid guilt and the ambiguities of the white liberal position, told from the perspective of the interaction between a young academic who seeks to write the biography of a Nadine Gordimer-esque doyenne of the South African literary establishment. It is exceedingly well done. 

In terms of non-fiction offerings, both Adriaan Basson’s Zuma Exposed and Julian Rademeyer’s Killing For Profit, about the rhino-poaching industry, have been well received. If you can’t face bleak material on Christmas morning, though, you might want to consider Caitlin Moran’s Moranthology. Moran – a Brit – is one of the funniest journalists writing today, and this collection of her columns takes the reader through everything from her experience of visiting a sex club with Lady Gaga to her take on the eurozone crisis. 

Topping the book charts on this year is an Afrikaans children’s book by Leon Rousseau, Storieman. Kalahari’s marketing manager Liz Hillock told the Daily Maverick that this was the first time in four years that Kalahari’s book chart has not been topped by a sports biography, because there hasn’t been a prominent contender this year. Following Rousseau’s story omnibus is Fifty Shades of Grey, at number 2, with Masterchef South Africa The Cookbook at number 3.

Hillock said that in general there had been an increase in over 30% in Kalahari’s revenue this year, a rise she termed “very strong”. She said the biggest growth area was in electronics, which she attributed to a behaviour change among customers: “People are much more comfortable buying expensive items online than they used to be”. Entry-level multimedia devices were particularly in demand this year, Hillock said – Kalahari’s top-selling item across all categories (including books) was a Gobii 7’’ e-reader which sells for R799 and includes book vouchers worth R160.

Here’s a heads-up for everyone on Christmas morning – Hillock said that the best-selling appliance this year is a Mellerware Biltong Maker (R349) which allows you to make homemade biltong and droewors. A biltong maker? “By a country mile,” confirmed Hillock. “We can’t sell them fast enough.” 

Daily Maverick’s Christmas wish list

Dear Santa, here are a few things we wouldn’t mind in our stocking…

Multifunction kitchen scissors (R49)

Sounds boring, right? But actually this is the Leatherman of kitchen scissors. They’re magnetic, so you can stick ‘em to the fridge, and the two scissor arms separate to serve as a fish-scaler, vegetable peeler, knife, nutcracker, screwdriver and bottle-opener. Oh, and as a pair of scissors.

Available at @home stores 

O2 Cool Misting Fans (R120)

“It’s a scorching hot afternoon and you need cooling relief, quick! At the push of a button a safe transparent fan provides a chilling cool breeze. Squeeze the trigger and cold mist floats towards you, instantly cooling you and saving the day!” That’s the sales pitch, but it sounds good to us. When we visited Cape Union Mart it had completely sold out of these guys, suggesting that unlike other portable fans, they may actually work.

Available at Cape Union Mart and Sportsman’s Warehouse

Geneva Sound Systems (from R3,790)

Okay, so these aren’t cheap. But once you hear what these all-in-one speaker systems sound like, you’ll understand why Wired magazine suggested that they are the “Steinways” of iPod docks, making all competitors sound like toy pianos. When a sales assistant gave us a demonstration, he had to close the door so that the rest of the mall wouldn’t have their ears blown off. The sound quality is extraordinary – and the devices are beautifully designed.

Available from a number of dedicated h-fi shops countrywide 

Sony Digital Recording Binoculars (R19,000)

These are the world’s first full high-definition digital recording binoculars. How cool is that? Yes, their price could feed a family for a year. But think of the possibilities for bird-watchers and game enthusiasts! You can zoom in to up to 20x magnification and take photos and videos. A sales assistant at Sony told us he had sold three this week to tourists going on safari. Damn them for having all the money.

Available from Sony. DM


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