It's the week before Christmas—too late to ensure standard delivery of online purchases will arrive in time, and perhaps too crazed a period to hit the mall and wander in hope of inspiration. Even so, there is still plenty of time for last-minute shoppers to make the holiday dreams of their loved ones come true, or at least avoid deep disappointment on December 25.
Here are some smart ideas for where to shop, what to buy, and even how to get the most bang for the buck as you're scrambling to pull off some last-minute Christmas shopping miracles. As a bonus, with most of the suggestions below, shoppers never have to physically "go shopping."
Fast Free Shipping Deals
The whole holiday season is flooded with promotions, and as the frenzy comes to a close many retailers push free expedited shipping offers as a way to seal the deal with last-minute shoppers. In past years, many companies threw in two-day shipping at no charge to entice shoppers to buy online in the last few days before Christmas. Some, like Banana Republic, even offered free same-day delivery in select locations. So look for an abundance of free expedited delivery deals—most likely, with a minimum-purchase requirement of $50 or so—this week.
Among the special shipping deals we know of, with delivery guaranteed by December 24, is one from Best Buy. The electronics retailer is promising free two-day shipping for most products on orders placed by 11:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday, December 21. Like Best Buy, Target has offered free standard shipping on all orders since November, and is sweetening the deal at the last minute, with free two-day delivery on most purchases made by 4 p.m. ET on December 21.
Meanwhile, Amazon Prime subscribers can place orders as late as December 22 and have items delivered for free by December 24 with two-day delivery. One-day and even same-day shipping is free with Amazon Prime in select cities too. Another option comes from ShopRunner, a two-day shipping subscription service that partners with retailers like Ralph Lauren and Eddie Bauer, and that waives the normal $79 membership fee for customers who sign up with an American Express card.
Gifts Sent Via Email
Another gift option that doesn't require you to leave the house or dare risk any personal contact is the e-gift. The most common form is the simple e-gift card, which is just like a normal gift card only it's virtual and can be redeemed via the web or a scan of a smartphone. They're available for hundreds of retailers—Starbucks, Apple, Amazon, and beyond—and the most interesting products come with tempting bonuses around this time of year. Panera Bread, for instance, gives a free $10 bonus card with the purchase of each $50 card, and the deal applies no matter if you're buying a physical or electronic card.
For a virtual present that feels more personal, consider the new gifting service from Nordstrom. The new service is the result of a partnership with CashStar, in which the recipient receives an email featuring a present picked out by the giver. Before the item is actually shipped, however, the recipient can tweak the color or size, or even pick another gift or choose to simply take a digital gift card instead.
Physical Gift Cards
They're the default no-brainer, minimal-effort option of last-minute shoppers everywhere. Drugstores, supermarkets, gas stations, and other locations with late hours generally have a wide range of gift cards, so you can choose one from a retail favored by the recipient and (hopefully) it'll seem sorta thoughtful. (Some people really love gift cards, remember.)
Buy Online, Pick Up in Store
Physical retailers get better and better every year with handling this practical option, which allows shoppers to swing by stores to pick up orders rather than strolling through actual aisles hunting for merchandise. Of course, customers whose orders are confirmed in advance get to save time, they don't have to worry about items being out of stock, and there are no shipping fees.
Target says that it beefed up its BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store) services around the country for the 2016 holiday season, designating specific staff in "Order Pickup" T-shirts to handle these transactions and offering shoppers free reusable Target shopping bags with such orders. Walmart's BOPIS option for the 2016 holidays allows customers to place orders as late as 6 p.m. on Friday, December 23 for pickup guaranteed on Christmas Eve. Virtually every major retailer now offers a BOPIS option nowadays, so consider it if you're short on time or just hate browsing in stores.
Serious Late-Night Shopping
In previous years, stores like Toys R Us, Macy's, and Kohl's have been open 24/7 in the days before Christmas, and shoppers should expect more of the same in 2016. Toys R Us stores will be open for 39 hours in a row, from 6 a.m. on Friday, December 23, through 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve, while Kohl's plans on a 107-hour shopping marathon starting at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, December 20.
So if you're an insomniac, or if you've always been curious about what Kohl's is like around 3 a.m., here's your opportunity.
Subscription Gift Boxes
Available as one-time gifts or regularly arriving deliveries a la “of the month” clubs, gift boxes feature an assortment of items picked to please the interests of different personalities. Recipients can be notified of their gifts via email or just in a handwritten card, so you can order one of these box subscriptions in seconds, at the very last minute.
Birch Box offers gift subscriptions for beauty samples for women (and grooming products for dudes), for instance, while GlobeIn specializes in artisan, fair-trade goods. There are options for pet lovers (Cat Lady Box, Bark Box), and tons of random possibilities for foodies, like Japanese candy packages via Japan Crate. Check out the recommendations from InStyle for subscription box ideas.
Experiences Instead of Stuff
There's vast research indicating that people get more enjoyment, satisfaction, and happiness out of experiences like concerts, restaurant meals, a weekend getaway or a cooking class than they do from traditional gifts. As a bonus to gift-givers, all of these kinds of experiential gifts can be arranged—or just theoretically proposed—at the very last minute, without heading out to the store.