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Last-minute gifts

Christmas is just around the corner and you need to check a couple more gifts off your list. But by this point stuff ordered online may not arrive in time and you'd rather not brave the crowds of your local mall.

Relax. Here are some last-minute gift ideas for quick pickup or immediate electronic delivery. Crisis: solved.

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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.

There are some notable new options this year: Uber, Nintendo, Roblox, HBO Go and more have joined the tree of cards, at least at our local drugstores.

But do your giftee a favor and check the terms of the cards you give: some of them charge fees or expire if it's not used within a given period of time, for example. Here's some excellent gift-card buying advice from WalletHub.

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Subscription boxes

The best last-minute gift might not be the one that arrives on the last day of Hanukkah, Christmas morning or right after the Festivus airing of grievances -- 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 of course, Loot Crates. (Note that the stories linked to have old prices, but the services remain fundamentally the same.)

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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Entertainment subscriptions, the gifts that keep on giving

So many companies have moved to subscription plans that it makes sense to give one as a gift -- and there are a lot to choose from. Best of all, you can order them up till the very, very last minute. They can be especially popular for bingers and gamers, with new giftable options like Netflix, HBO Now, Sling, Fandango Now and Xbox Game Pass. Or you can opt for a tried-and-true music subscription.

Our gift subscription picks for 2018.

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Electronic gift cards

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 that 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 such as 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 at a specific time. 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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Paypal Digital Gifts

While PayPal Digital Gifts is mostly a one-click stop for buying physical gift cards, you can gift credit codes and e-gift cards for some places as well: among them are Nintendo eShop Digital Cards, Apple App Store and iTunes, Uber, Microsoft XboxGoogle Play, eBay and Crate and Barrel. It does require a PayPal account.

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Google Play credit for everything Google

Google lacks the ability to simply send a Play Store credit as a gift from its apps and site; you can only electronically gift a Play Music subscription or books now. Here are the instructions for doing it via the Android apps or on your PC.

If you want to give someone a general-purpose Play Store credit for buying Google hardware, apps, movies or TV shows, though, you can do it through lots of other sites, including PayPal Digital Gifts, Amazon, and Walmart. Google offers a list of sites where you can pick them up.

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Amazon Prime Now

Gift cards might be the most reliable 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 (from a limited selection). The company offers free same-day or two-hour delivery in most major metropolitan areas in the United States, and its $8 Prime Now 1-hour delivery service is available in over 64 US metropolitan areas and six countries outside the US. 

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 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, shop at primenow.com or use the Prime Now app for iOS or Android to rapidly fill the holes in your shopping list. And if you're not a Prime member, there's always the 30-day free trial.

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Amazon Prime subscription

Speaking of Amazon Prime, why not give it as a gift? For $120 (one year, $40 for three months), you can give your recipient benefits that include free two-day, same-day or two-hour delivery on applicable items in some areas, as well as free music and video streaming. There are about 21 benefits that come with a Prime membership.

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.

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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) still cannot be scheduled for specific dates in the future, whereas e-book deliveries can be scheduled. 

If your giftee is not happy with your taste in books or music, they can exchange it -- as long as they haven't yet redeemed the code -- for an Amazon gift card.

Give Amazon music: On the page for the song or Album, click "More options", then "Give Album or Song as Gift." 

Give Amazon e-books: Choose the book you wish to give and on its product page choose "Buy for Others." Note that if a book isn't available in a particular country, you won't be able to gift it there either, and you can't give free books, books on preorder, or subscriptions.

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Console game codes

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 match the game to the 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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PC and Mac games via Steam

You can turn any Steam game purchase into a gift after adding it to your cart, and you can schedule it as well. Note that Steam changed its policies from last year; now you can only gift to other Steam members and they have to be on your friends list. (Steam's FAQ on giving gifts.) You can also gift codes for Steam games through other services, such as Fanatical.

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PC and Mac games from GOG

GOG's made a name for itself as a source for classic games and carries many of the same games as Steam, but the advantage of gifting from GOG is that the games come DRM-free and don't require an account, so your giftee doesn't have to have anything to do with the site after downloading if they don't want to. Just click "Gift this order" on checkout. GOG's Winter Sale is going on now through Jan. 3, 2019.

See the GOG gift FAQ

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Where's the game I want to give?

Thanks to the Great Game Store Wars of late 2018, it's no longer as simple as pointing you to one or two outlets. Epic Games (developer of  the popular Unreal gaming engine and battle royale blockbuster Fortnite) recently picked up all its marbles, pulled its games from Steam, and started its own store, and sites like Twitch and Discord started up their own stores with exclusive distribution for some games. 

Some offer subscription plans which include a vault of free games, much the same way Xbox and PlayStation do, but you can't seem to give subscriptions as gifts -- only individual games -- and Epic doesn't seem to offer even that yet. And there are some other annoying aspects. For instance, with Discord, you can't give any game that's free with its Nitro vault subscription, which means if you're a Nitro subscriber but your friend isn't, no can gift.

On most sites, the gifting process is similar: you simply choose the game you want and then opt for "buy as gift" somewhere on the page and they email a redemption code. They all require an account: you can't just pop on and make a one-time gift purchase. Twitch is owned by Amazon, which makes it a little easier. You still have to link a Twitch account to your Amazon account for the payment information.

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Apple iTunes credits for almost any Apple purchase

You can gift a cash amount as an iTunes credit that someone can use for anything  Apple with the App Store, iBooks Store, iTunes or Apple Music store apps on  your mobile device. Just scroll down to the bottom of the "Featured" page and select "Send Gift." On the desktop, you can do it via the "Send an iTunes gift" under Quick Links on the Featured page of the iTunes or iBooks application. Or, if you don't have iTunes/iBooks installed (or just don't want to use it), you can buy them on Apple's site.

Keep in mind they're only redeemable in the country where they were purchased.

Instructions for gifting from an Apple device or a computer

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Give an iBook or iTunes album

As with Amazon, you can give specific items like a digital book or album via the iBooks or iTunes app on mobile or desktop; unfortunately, there's no web interface for people who want to do it once and never again.

On mobile, you find the item you want in the app and then pull up the share sheet -- there's an option for Gift. In the desktop apps, you use the drop-down menu on the Buy Book button and select the "Gift this book" option.

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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 (which are now one company but separate services) 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). 

You just need to go to the deal you want and click "Buy as gift" under the "Buy" button.

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Do something geeky together

This only works if you live near each other, but go out and play together! Check out a local VR arcade (search the web for "VR arcade" and your region) -- some are even open on Christmas Day. For example, VRJunkies has locations in different parts of the country and here in New York City we've got VR World NYC. Some places offer e-gifts, but many let you just walk in if you haven't had the foresight to reserve a time.

Pricing schemes vary wildly, though. In New York, a full day will run you $60, while in, say, South Carolina you may be able to book by the hour for $45.

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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. Walmart now joins the same-day delivery club via its Jet.com subsidiary, and GiftNow serves partners like Target and Uniqlo for same-day delivery on select products. 

Keep in mind that there may be exceptions for same-day delivery availability depending upon the volume they have to deal with or item availability. And if you're hoping for Christmas Eve delivery, some retailers won't even be taking orders; for instance, camera biggie B&H closes early on Fridays and doesn't reopen until Saturday evening, and you can't even make online purchases 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

Even if you're running late, there may still be time to get some great gifts for friends and family before Christmas by (gasp) going to a retail store. Coming up blank? Be sure to check out our entire 2018 Holiday Gift Guide.

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