Last-minute gift ideas

Your holiday celebration is right around the corner, and you still don't have the gifts you need? Don't worry -- it's easier than ever to do some last-minute shopping.


Lori Grunin

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Last-minute gifts

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 middle or the end of December might not arrive until 2018.

So we've put together this guide of last-minute gift ideas and sources that offer less than two-day delivery windows or electronic delivery, to help stave off procrastinator's panic.

Updated December 22, 2017.

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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.

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.

Electronic gift cards
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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 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 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 for some places as well: among them are Steam Digital Wallet credits, Nintendo eShop Digital Cards, Apple App Store and iTunes or Apple Music, Microsoft Xbox and  Google Play. It does require a PayPal account.

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Google Play credit for everything Google

In a baffling move by Google, the company recently removed 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 via PayPal with PayPal Digital Gifts. That does require a PayPal account, though.

amazon prime now
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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. The company offers free same-day or two-hour delivery in most major metropolitan areas in the United States, and its Prime Now 1-hour delivery service is available in over 27 US metropolitan areas. The latter has an $8 fee.

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, 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 $99, you can give your recipient benefits that include free two-day, same-day or two-hour delivery on applicable items, and in some areas and free music and video streaming. There are about 20 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.

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. 

Also: Music gifts can be swapped for store credit by default, while e-book gifts can only be "exchanged" for credit if the user already has that title in his or her library. But that means you don't have to worry whether your recipient already owns the latest Stephen King book or Taylor Swift album.
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: Click "Give as gift" from the purchase options on the right for any currently shipping Kindle e-book in Amazon's catalog. (You apparently can't gift unreleased e-books.)

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Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription

Know a voracious reader? Give them an unlimited selection (from a large but limited list) of choices with Kindle Unlimited for $10 a month in 6-, 12- or 24-month durations. It's dead easy -- Amazon has a landing page specifically for KU gifts, which is essentially the regular landing page with "This is a gift" already checked. 

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PC games via Steam

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.

Steam supports scheduling gift deliveries, and its Winter Sale is now on through January 4, 2018 at 1 p.m. ET.

Check out Steam's FAQ on giving gifts.

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PC and Mac games from GOG

GOG's made a name for itself as a competitor for Steam and carries many of the same games, but the advantage of gifting from GOG is that the games come DRM-free, 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. Plus, it's running its Winter Sale through December 26.

See the GOG gift FAQ

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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.

iTunes credits
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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 or iTunes 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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Apple Music

While your giftee can use iTunes credits toward an Apple Music subscription, you can specifically buy three months or a year of the individual plan instead on the web. 

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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 dropdown menu on the Buy Book button and select the "Gift this book" option.

Star Trek Loot Crate
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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. (But dang it, the Stranger Things Limited Edition crate is sold out.)

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 (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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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, and Catbird delivers designer jewelry, beauty and home products.

best buy same day delivery
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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. Walmart now joins the same-day delivery club via its Jet.com subsidiary.

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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This local service can deliver gifts within an average of 35 minutes, as long as you choose from its Holiday Gift Collection or Drinks Collection and the recipient lives within one of the urban areas it serves (to see those collections, click on the locale from the home screen); in return, if you're a Postmates customer, you'll earn 3 months of Postmates Unlimited. Of course, you can also order from your phone (iOS, Android) as well.

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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 2017 Holiday Gift Guide.

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