1. Buy from Amazon
Amazon.com can be both one of the best and worst sites for last-minute holiday shoppers. If you’re buying an item shipped from Amazon directly, then it’s a great choice. Amazon's shipping is reliable, and the site offers several shipping options that promise delivery by Christmas Eve (see chart below). Keep in mind that these shipping options only apply to specific items marked “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com” or “Fulfilled by Amazon.com.” On the other hand, you should not buy last-minute Christmas gifts from the hundreds of thousands of merchants who sell their products through Amazon Marketplace. The reliability of these shippers is hit or miss, and they don't offer guaranteed Christmas Eve delivery.
2. Use online daily deal websites
If you've waited until the absolute last minute to buy gifts (like 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve) consider buying an online daily deal from one of the hundreds of sites like Groupon and LivingSocial.
On Groupon, you can purchase a deal as a gift and then use the site’s gifting options to either email the deal or print it out for your gift recipient. If you can’t decide what Groupon deal to buy, you can always just purchase a Groupon gift card (in any denomination between $15–200), which can be instantly delivered to the recipient’s email inbox along with a personalized message.
On LivingSocial you can also gift a deal. You can choose to either have the site email the LivingSocial deal to the recipient with a personalized message (to be delivered at any specified time) or have the site email the voucher directly to you. You can then print it out and give it to the recipient in person.
3. Send electronic gift cards
So it’s Christmas and you still haven’t completed your shopping? No worries, you can always purchase electronic gift cards for your friends and family. E-gift cards can be purchased online and then immediately delivered to the recipient’s email inbox. Here’s a non-inclusive list of retailers that offer e-gift cards:
- Best Buy
- American Apparel
- Lands’ End
- Papa John’s
- American Express
If you do decide to purchase an e-gift card, make sure you also tell the recipient because sometimes they can end up in the recipient’s email spam folder.
4. Make a charitable donation on someone's behalf
Making a charitable donation in a recipient's name is another great gift idea that doesn't involve astronomical shipping costs or crowded malls. In addition, this makes a great gift for that person on your shopping list who already has everything and is impossible to shop for. When giving the gift of a charitable contribution, try to select a charity that is particularly meaningful to the recipient or is in line with his or her interests. For example, if the intended gift recipient is an animal lover, consider making a charitable donation in his or her name to the Humane Society or the ASPCA. If you do make a charitable donation as a gift this holiday season, make sure to keep your receipt because your donation will most likely be tax-deductible.
5. Use direct shipping
If you've waited to the last minute to buy gifts, consider shipping online gifts directly to the recipient instead of to your house—just make sure to request a gift receipt. This is an especially relevant tip for those people who are spending the holidays out of town. By shipping the gift directly to the recipient, you won't have to travel with it, which can save you money as many airlines charge by the bag or charge steep overweight bag fees.
6. Take advantage of in-store pickup
If you don’t have the time or energy to wander jam-packed stores looking for gifts, keep in mind that many stores let you select your items online and then pick them up in-store without having to pay shipping fees. If you are traveling for Christmas, you can also arrange to pick up the item at the store located in your destination, which may ultimately save you money in baggage fees. Some stores that let you order online and then pick up in-store include, but are not limited to:
- The Apple Store
- Best Buy
- The Container Store
7. Use retailers that are open Christmas Day
If you are an uber-procrastinator who has waited all the way until Christmas Day to buy gifts and don’t want to use any of the electronic gift options discussed above, you still have some viable options. The only major national retailer that is open on Christmas Day 2013 is Walgreens. Each store sets its own Christmas Day hours: some are open 24 hours, others hold regular business hours, while the rest are limited to specific holiday hours. As such, call your local Walgreens store to find out its holiday opening and closing times. McDonald’s, Burger King, and Pizza Hut are also typically open on Christmas Day (call your local store for specific hours) so you can always run in and buy a gift certificate. Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts are also usually open and have various gift options including gift certificates, bagged coffee, travel mugs, and other small gift items.
8. Never buy these last minute
So now that you know what makes a good last-minute holiday present, it’s time to discuss the types of holiday gifts that you should never buy late. Here are some general purchases to avoid:
- Large items online (televisions, large appliances, heavy furniture, etc.) ship by freight so they can never be shipped overnight.
- Personalized gifts such as items with custom engraving, monogramming, or personal photos take more time to produce. Even a rush order might not be fast enough to get your gift delivered in time for Christmas. Also, if you find an error on one of these personalized gifts, there will not be ample time to report the error and receive the corrected item by Christmas.
- Gifts from online independent merchant marketplaces such as Etsy or eBay should be avoided. Independent sellers can be notoriously unreliable with shipping and can’t offer the same shipping guarantees as many large corporate stores.
- Gifts from discount designer and flash sale sites like Gilt and Fab.com take a long time to ship. A large majority of these sites don’t do their own warehousing, meaning there will have to be at least two time-consuming rounds of shipping.