You procrastinated. You waited. The weather was bad. You were buried at work. Whatever your excuse, you need to get gifts for friends and family -- and time is running out. Well, don't worry: thanks to the wonder of digital gifting, you can send an e-book, movie or virtual gift card to someone right up until the last minute. We've rounded up the best options on the pages that follow.
This is an updated version of the guide we originally published in 2013.
Amazon offers electronic gift cards in four forms: sendable via Facebook, email, printable at home (so you can, say, add it to a greeting card you're presenting in person) and via standard postal delivery. (The later you are, the more you'll want to skip the final option.) They’re available in any amount up to $2,000, and you can can personalize them with your own photos (or even videos). And yes, the electronic ones can be set to deliver instantaneously or at a date in the future. (The credits can be used toward pretty much anything in Amazon’s massive store.)
Music and e-books are also giftable via email on Amazon. Just note that, for whatever reason, MP3 deliveries (full albums or single songs) cannot be scheduled for specific dates in the future, whereas e-book deliveries can be scheduled. What’s really cool, however, is that the recipient can choose to accept the e-book or MP3 music or exchange them for a credit of the same value. That means you don’t have to worry whether your recipient already owns the latest from Stephen King or Taylor Swift.
For $99, you can give the gift of Amazon Prime to someone. That entitles the recipient to:
>> Free two-day shipping on most anything from Amazon’s online store
>> Unlimited streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows available on Prime Instant Video (the company’s Netflix-like service)
>> Access to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (one free book a month, from a pre-established list that includes the entire "Harry Potter" series)
>> Access to Prime Music, more than a million streaming songs available at no additional charge
>> Unlimited free storage of digital photos in the cloud (Prime Photos)
Nearly all of the digital features will work across devices from multiple manufacturers, including iPhones and iPads, Android devices, Roku boxes and -- of course -- Amazon's own Kindle and Fire devices.
(The gift can be scheduled for a specific date, and if the recipient is already a Prime member, he or she will get an Amazon credit instead.)
If you want to get someone money to put toward hardware at an Apple store, you’ll want to invest in an Apple gift card -- not an iTunes gift card, which is only for music, videos, apps, and software. The cards are available in any amount from $25 to $2,000, via email (sent within 24 hours of purchase).
If you’re getting someone a new iDevice or Mac -- or he or she already has one -- an iTunes gift card is a great stocking-stuffer. Available to be mailed to your giftee, the cards are available in increments of $25, $50 or $100. (You can also find these in nearly every major drugstore in the country.)
Want to gift a specific song, album, movie, TV show or app to someone with an iOS device or an iTunes account?
To send an iTunes credit: Scroll down on the iTunes app to the "Send Gift" button, and you'll get the screen shown above. Email a credit of $15, $25, $100 -- or an amount of your choosing -- directly from the app. You can schedule it immediately, or on a future date.
To gift specific apps or media: Go to the song/album/movie/TV show or app in the iTunes Store app and hit the share button (the same one you use for Facebook or Twitter). Click the "gift" button on the following screen.
B&N gift cards can also be delivered via email. Fair warning, though: unlike Amazon, they can’t be scheduled for future delivery; they’re delivered instantaneously. You can gift anything from $10 to $350, and they’re accepted at Barnes & Noble brick-and-mortar store (including college bookstores) and at bn.com. Nowadays, that means your giftee's buying choices go beyond books, including toys, DVDs and Blu-rays, and Nook e-books.
If you want to broaden the purchase possibilities from hand towels to coffee-makers to duvet covers -- and everything in between -- Bed Bath & Beyond is a great choice. You can give from $5 to $300, and the gifts are deliverable via scheduled emails or printable versions for snail mail or hand-gifting.
Best Buy gift cards are available in amounts from $5 to $500 and can be used in store or at the company's Web site. You can email them (with the ability to schedule for delivery on a specific date) or print them for mailing or in-person handover.
If your giftee owns an Android phone or tablet, a Google Play gift card is an easy win; it’s redeemable for apps, videos, books and music in Google’s online marketplace. Amazingly, though, you can’t e-gift Play credits -- you’ll need to hit your local drugstore, big-box retailer, or supermarket.
Getting a gift for the type of person who likes to build his or her own PC? Get 'em a Newegg gift card, so your giftee can buy anything from a hard drive to a stick of RAM. Gifts are deliverable via email, and available from $10 to $2,500.
Yes, Spotify has a "free" component, but to fully enjoy the on-demand features on a full range of devices, the premium version is the way to go. You can gift 1, 3, 6 or 12 months of Spotify Premium electronically -- so they’ll have something good to listen to on that new iPad, Android device, or Sonos (to name just a handful of the compatible devices).
The perfect gift for a caffeine junkie is a gift card to Starbucks -- and the coffeehouse makes it easy to gift via email in amounts of $5 to $100. You can schedule the gift to arrive on a specific date, too.
Target lets you deliver gift cards in amounts from $5 to $1,000 via mail, email, and even via text message to a mobile phone. Note, however, that Target's e-gift cards can only be used at Target.com -- not in stores. (You can get physical cards for that.)
The world’s largest retailer may not be open on Christmas Day, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get an e-gift card that day. Emailable gifts are available from $5 to $200, but take note: Walmart specifies that they’ll be delivered “via email within 48 hours (usually immediately).”
Because of the late Thanksgiving holiday, the Christmas shopping season is a week shorter than usual. There’s still a few days before you start to hit shipping cutoffs. (After December 20, things will start to get dicey -- or pricey, as you’ll be forced to go with next-day shipping premiums). Of course, if you’re shopping in-store, you can go right up to the bitter end. Either way, we have plenty of great gift ideas for you: check out CNET's complete holiday gift guide, which includes a huge selection of tech gifts at every price point.