Where to Find Last-Minute Gifts OnlineExpect to pay more for shipping, but procrastinators can still find the perfect gift online.
Lincoln Spector, special to PCWorld.com
Chanukah was half over before my wife ordered my gift online. And she ordered it from DeepDiscountDVD.com, a retailer famous for its free but slow shipping. Needless to say, the eight-day festival is long over and my gift still hasn't arrived.
I understand. She leads a very busy life.
Folks who celebrate Christmas still have some shopping time left. If you're careful where you shop, check the expected arrival dates posted on many retail sites, and are willing to pay more for fast delivery (think of it as the price of procrastination), your gift will probably arrive before the North Pole reindeer launch.
This time of year, retail sites design themselves around Christmas shoppers, helping you find gifts and posting deadlines for on-time delivering.
For instance, from Amazon.com's gift page you could click on By Recipient, then For Kids, 8-11, and Stuffed Animals to discover a Toys 'R' Us' White Tiger selling for $6.98.
Amazon.com's Domestic Ordering Deadlines chart shows you the last date you can buy an in-stock item and hope it arrives in time. For instance, the last day for Holiday Guaranteed Shipping is December 19, but One-Day shipping is good through December 21, and Last Minute Shipping ($5 more than One-Day) through next Monday, December 23.
Paying the Price
BestBuy.com is offering free shipping on thousands of items, but to get them before Christmas you'll have to order them by December 18. Other, faster shipping options cost money, but are still discounted. See the shipping deadlines on BestBuy.com.
For third year in a row, Yahoo is offering a Last Minute Shopping Page with links to more than 60 vendors that promise you prompt delivery (and promise Yahoo a profitable business relationship). These vendors range from the ritzy (Neiman-Marcus) to the working-class (Wal-Mart), to the obscure (EBags). Many of the links take you directly to the timetables so important for last-minute shoppers.
But the true procrastinators give up on timetables and shipping charges: They buy gifts they can e-mail. Fortunately, there are plenty of such gifts to consider.
Like software. A lot of programs these days are available online; a credit card payment buys you permission to download. You might, for instance, go to Iomega's Web site and buy someone the HotBurn CD-RW authoring program. And for PDA owners on your list, Handango offers everything from on-screen keyboards to games to sales tools to the Age of Empires (just make sure you know what handheld your loved one owns).
Books have been popular gifts for centuries, and with e-books some of them are now downloadable. Amazon.com has whole subsection of e-books, with everything from children's books to science to mysteries.
But e-books have their shortcomings as gifts. The recipient has to download and install special software, and reading an e-book just isn't as nice as curling up in a comfy chair with a hardcover.
Giving Gift Certificates
But the ultimate downloadable gift is the favorite of many a stumped shopper: gift certificates. Pretty much every online vendor offers these. Yahoo's Last Minute Gift section devotes a page to the associated vendors' certificate pages.
Gifts.com offers a unique variation on the gift certificate theme called EGifts. Rather than buy a certificate for a specified amount of money, you put together a collection of products sold by Gifts.com that your loved one is likely to want. The company sends e-mail containing these choices, minus prices, to the recipient, who picks one item from the selection.
If you prefer a more conventional gift certificate, but can't decide on a site, try GiftCerticates.com. This site sells certificates from a huge selection of retailers, from Macy's to American Airlines to Pizza Hut. But if you're in a hurry, make sure you select a retailer that can e-mail a certificate; some of them send them only via snail-mail.
And if you really can't decide, you can buy one of GiftCertificates.com's own SuperCertificates. These are basically gift certificates folks can redeem for other company's gift certificates.
But nothing that arrives via e-mail has the intimate excitement of an actual, physical gift. If you've ordered one, and don't think it will arrive in time, you can always print the order confirmation, cross out the price, and wrap that.