Whether you have loved ones thousands of miles away, or just revile the out-the-door holiday lines at the post office, it’s not always possible or practical to get a physical package to someone in time for Christmas. Rather than copping out with a cheesy virtual greeting card, dealing with arm-long customs forms to get your care package to Tajikistan, or spending twice to cost of your teddy bear to get it to Michigan overnight, may we suggest an alternative?
Just email your gift.
No, an emailed gift won’t replace the feeling of rattling a box to guess what’s inside or tearing off wrapping paper, but it can unlock plenty of awesome products and services for the lucky recipient, both online and in the real world. Check out some of the favorite emailable gifts we would be delighted to find stuffed in our inboxes.
If you’re looking to stretch your dollars as much as possible, it doesn’t get much better than gifting a Groupon, which is essentially like doubling your cash by buying a gift card at half price. You also get the personal touch of selecting a local establishment that jives with what your friend’s tastes, whether it’s a corner coffee shop or something more off-beat, like a 90-minute dip in a sensory deprivation tank. Just beware that Groupon expiration dates usually roll around sooner than real gift card — especially if you decide to give away one you’ve been holding on to for a while, like that shiatsu massage you changed your mind on.
iTunes gift certificates
You won’t get creativity points for going with the old standby of an iTunes gift card — heck, you can get them in the checkout aisle at supermarkets now — but to Apple fanatics, they’re still golden. After plugging in the code from your email in on iTunes, recipients will be able to download everything from apps to music, movies, and even digital subscriptions to publications like The New York Times. Too bad Apple obnoxiously insists that you install iTunes to send gift certificates via email, negating the convenience factor a bit if you don’t already have it.
Streaming music subscriptions
After taking the European music market by storm back in 2008, Spotify finally made its transition stateside this year to similar accolades. Yes, you can listen for free, but a $4.99 monthly subscription will kill commercials, and for $9.99 you can download tracks for offline listening and use it on a mobile device — letting you take 15 million songs with you anywhere. Spotify e-cards aren’t available in every country (including the U.S.) yet, but the popular alternatives Rdio and Slacker do offer gifting options. (Moms and dads, we would just suggest creating a Spotify account for the kids and handing over the password.)
Filling the gap between the thoughtfulness of a gift card and the flexibility of cash, GiftRocket lets you gift a dollar amount to be used a retailer of your choice… but your recipient can always opt to simply pocket the cash or take it elsewhere. Odd choice? Yes, but as anyone who has ever begrudgingly bought something useless with an unwanted gift card can attest, it’s a useful service. You’ll pay $1 per gift, plus 5 percent of the gift amount for the convenience.
OK, there’s absolutely nothing new about buying airline tickets online, but we bet you didn’t consider them as a last-minute gift you could fire off in an email. Unless you want to deposit your friend in a far-flung land with no accommodations, we recommend springing for a ticket for an old friend to come visit you. Book far in advance to keep the fare lower, and if she’s the type who might still have plans that far out, spring for the refundable fare, or be prepared to foot the rebooking fee. Kayak is our favorite aggregator for sniffing out the best fares, but Google Flights and Bing Travel are worth a look, too.
As usual, the least thoughtful gift is still the most useful: Nothing beats cold, hard cash. PayPal is still the most popular way to send it via the web, but we recommend transferring money from your bank account to PayPal (which takes a few days) to dodge high fees, rather than paying at the last minute with a credit card. Since PayPal is notorious for questionable business practices, do-gooders may want to look into alternatives Amazon Payments, too.
Streaming movie and TV subscriptions
If you know a movie fan who hasn’t tapped into Netflix instant streaming yet, do her a favor getting the ball (and the movies) rolling. You can prepay for up to you a year of Netflix on the site at $7.99 a month, and even select your own design for the email when you fire it off and include a personalized message. Yes, a price hike upset a lot of Netflix customers earlier this year, but we still think it’s a great deal compared to cable. Hulu Plus makes a better bet if your someone special prefers newer TV shows, but keep in mind you still have to watch commercials after you pay — blasphemy!
Buying PC games in boxes is so 1999. OK, truthfully we miss those days a bit, but the convenience of Steam still makes it hard to beat. Just choose any game from a library of hundreds, enter your friend’s email address, and he can download it and play in a matter of minutes (assuming a quick connection). Giving to a friend you’ve lost touch with? Get a copy of the same game for yourself so you can play online and catch up.