Last-minute gifts

I have a friend who sends holiday cards the day after Thanksgiving -- personally photographed, professionally printed, hand-signed and snail-mailed, so you know she started working on them in August. Then there's the rest of us. Indecisive, illiquid or just idlers, we're the late shoppers ("We're not the sheeple who popped in time," as the song goes) who suddenly have to worry about the possibility that gifts for the end of December might not arrive until 2017.

Here are some last-minute gift ideas and sources to help stave off procrastinator's panic.

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Physical gift cards

That leaning tower of gift cards at the local chain drug store just became your best bud. There's a gift card for everything you can imagine these days, and chances are there's one open 24-7 that you can run into at the 11th hour and find a card for everyone on your list.

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Electronic giftcards

Can't even get to the 24-7 drug store? Send an electronic gift card, or even print one out at home if you want to be classy. Almost every one of the retailers who offer physical gift cards offers electronic ones as well.

You can send e-gift cards from big retailers like Amazon, Target and Walmart, movie theaters like AMC and Regal, restaurants like Red Robin and The Cheesecake Factory, and a fair number of clothing shops and electronics stores (Apple, Best Buy, Newegg), too.

Just be aware that not all electronic gift cards can be set to arrive on Christmas morning. You'll want to check and see whether you can schedule delivery, or whether your gift will immediately arrive in your recipient's inbox.

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Amazon Prime Now

Gift cards might be the safest way to give a last-minute holiday gift, but -- believe it or not -- Amazon might still be able to ship physical presents to your door. The company offers same-day delivery in most major metropolitan areas in the United States, and its Prime Now 1-hour delivery service is available in over 27 US cities now.

There are a few catches, of course. You'll need to type in your ZIP code here to see if you're inside a Same-Day Delivery zone, and you may need to pay an additional fee ($6-10) if you aren't an Amazon Prime member, or if your order is under $35. Same-day orders also generally need to be placed before noon.

If you qualify, though, you can simply browse Amazon for items with the Prime Free Same-Day Delivery logo, or use the Prime Now app for iOS or Android to rapidly fill the holes in your shopping list. If you need gift inspiration and you're a Prime Now subscriber, there's also a handy-dandy guide to the company's same-day delivery offerings.

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Amazon Prime subscription

Speaking of Amazon Prime, why not give it as a gift? For $99, you can give your recipient all of these benefits:

-- Free two-day shipping on applicable items
-- Prime Music: unlimited ad-free access to music, playlists and stations
-- Prime Video: Instant streaming of Amazon's selection of movies and TV shows
-- Amazon Drive: Free unlimited photo storage
-- Prime Reading: unlimited access to selected books, magazines and more on any device

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.)

Give the gift of Amazon Prime

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Amazon MP3 albums or Kindle e-books

Amazon can also help you gift music and e-books via email. 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 book or Taylor Swift album.

Give Amazon music: On the page for the song or Album, click "More options" and then "Give Album or Song as Gift" on any MP3 song or album in Amazon's catalog

Give Amazon e-books: Click "Give as gift" from the purchase options on the right for any currently shipping Kindle e-book in Amazon's catalog. It doesn't look like you can preorder e-book gifts.

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PC games via Steam

Steam's digital distribution service has pretty much changed not only the way people buy PC games, but how they can shop for them as well.

Lucky for you, you can turn any Steam game purchase into a gift from within your cart. If your giftee already uses Steam, you'll be able to see if they already own a game or if it's on their wish list. If not, you can send it to their email address.

Just note that gifts are sent immediately. To avoid early gifting, you can add a game to your Steam Inventory at the time you buy it, and then send it days or weeks later.

Check out Steam's FAQ on giving gifts.

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Digital game codes

PC gamers aren't the only ones who can receive games as last-minute gifts, though. These days, retailers like Amazon and GameStop sell digital activation codes for practically any game your giftee might like.

All you have to do is make sure you pick the right digital game for the right game console that your recipient owns (don't buy for PlayStation 3 if they have a 4!), and you'll receive a code that you can send to your giftee. They just punch it into their console and download the game -- no disc necessary.

If you're not sure which game to buy, there are also e-gift cards for Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo systems so they can choose for themselves.

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iOS apps and iTunes credits

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.

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Google Play credit for everything Google

You can give your favorite Android fan a credit to the Google Play Store where they can use it for anything available there -- apps, movies, tv shows, music, books, magazines and even Google hardware. Just head to the Play store and select "Send gift" from the left-hand navigation.

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Subscription boxes

The best last-minute gift might not be the one that arrives on the last day of Hanukkah or on Christmas morning -- but again and again throughout the year. That's what you'll be giving if you gift a subscription box this holiday season.

Subscription boxes work like this: Every month, a box arrives with some thematic goodies inside, such as boxes for book lovers, boxes for cat lovers, boxes for dog lovers, boxes for foodies, boxes for fitness freaks and so on.

Search the internet and you'll find dozens and dozens of such boxes across all sorts of themes (gadgets, coffee, wine, shaving razors, etc.) and entire websites dedicated to helping you find the right one.

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A grand day out

Or maybe what you really want to give your giftee is a nice day out. Groupon and LivingSocial specialize in offering discounted group rates on spa treatments, event tickets, car-detailing sessions, hang-gliding and skiing lessons, and all sorts of other rare opportunities for adventure and relaxation. Be sure to read the fine print regarding expiration dates and terms, though, and you'll have to create an account (or sign in with Facebook).

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Local one-hour delivery services

These have popped up all over, and while most of them serve a limited selection of regions, if you're desperate it never hurts to do a search for "same day delivery" and the name of your city. In New York City, for instance, urbanfetch.com is still around and offers various gift options, including gourmet food and kids' games and toys.

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Same-day delivery services

These are larger-scale partnerships between retailers and companies with extensive distribution networks. For instance, Google Express offers same-day delivery on selected products from stores such as Target, Adorama, Barnes and Noble, Toys R Us and more. Deliv is smaller but still serves 17 regions, and if you're stuck you can shop backward -- look at the list of participating retailers and see if there's something worth buying from them. Most notably, Deliv is the service used by Best Buy, Crate and Barrel, Kohl's, Macy's and other big names.

Keep in mind that there may be exceptions for same-day delivery availability depending upon the volume they have to deal with. And if you're hoping for Christmas Eve delivery, some retailers won't even be open; for instance, camera biggie B&H closes early on Fridays and don't operate on Saturday, and you can't even purchase online during those hours.

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Printable gifts

If you've got a good color printer, you can buy, download and print designs by artists from sites like Etsy, including a nice card to slip your last-minute gift card into or a calendar for friends to help you remember to shop earlier next year.

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More gifts

If you're lucky, there's still time to give your friends and family some great gifts this holiday season. If you need more gift ideas, be sure to check out our entire 2016 Holiday Gift Guide.

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