I'm terrible at planning and forward-thinking in general, so in the spirit of procrastination and poor planning I decided to make my Christmas gift-guide a last-minute guide. Gift-certificates and cash are the obvious choices, but not the only choices and they don't have to be thoughtless.
Gift certificates are pretty self-explanatory, so I've listed things which are either shops I personally recommend or places where a gift-certificate is preferable over a physical product.
- Gela Skins - Gela Skins make high-quality skins for a huge variety of devices. iPods, phones, games consoles/controllers, laptops, kindles, etc etc. In addition to all their artwork they're also partners with Tokidoki, Marvel and more, meaning you could get a licensed Batman skin if you wanted. The customise feature means that, not only can you use your own images to make a skin, but you can also take any of the images they have for any device and just apply it to a different template. For example, you want a Tokidoki Xbox 360 skin but they only list iPods and Macbooks, you can open it in the customise tool and just apply it to an Xbox 360 template and have it printed. This is one store in which a gift certificate is preferable, since your recipient would almost certainly prefer to specify exactly what they want. I used Gela Skins for my netbook and iPod and have been really happy with them, they're fantastic quality, last for ages and are easy to apply.
- Amazon - Pretty self-explanatory. Of all the giant conglomerates to buy a gift-certificate from, Amazon probably has the most variety. Amazon gift-cards can also be redeemed against e-books for Kindles/e-book readers and MP3s which adds a degree of personalisation.
- Indies - A lot of my favourite indie companies do gift certificates, which are great for introducing a commercial-shopper to indie companies or treating someone who's already a fan. Here's a short list: Morgana Cryptoria, Purely Cosmetics, Meow Cosmetics, Geek Chic, Whimsy Beading, Luxury Lane Soap (proud makers of my Companion Cube). There's probably more, and if you know of a good indie store that's doing gift certificates (or run one yourself) please post the link in the comments. If the store you want doesn't have gift certificates, like Fyrinnae for example...
- DIY - Design a card with the store name and a picture or two from it, and just send the recipient money via Paypal. It's not quite as fancy and you can't force them to spend it at that place, but it still shows you've put some thought into it.
A variety of things which can be paid for online, then printed and added to a card or parcel and masquerade as a perfectly pre-planned gift.
- Online games & virtual items - MMOGs, expansion packs, in-game items (who doesn't want a sparkle pony?), game-time, Xbox Live subscriptions/Microsoft points, or any game which can be paid for online and downloaded instead of requiring a CD will work. You can buy it for them, print the details and stick it in a card.
- Digital-Downloads - Beyond just downloadable games, this also covers books, MP3s, films and software. Amazon have an entire Digital Downloads parent category to help you out.
- Pre-Orders - Pre-order an anticipated game, book, or DVD release. Pre-orders make fantastic last-minute gifts because no one has to know that it's last-minute. A little browsing can show you a list of products available for pre-order, for example here's the games list. You can use Amazon to browse for ideas, be it books, DVDs, games etc, and then google for a different/cheaper option if you prefer. As before, just print the details and stick them in a card.
- Charitable Gifts - Procrastinator-compatible and non-commercial, you can buy a variety of charitable gifts, from adopting animals or children to sending livestock, tools, toys and more to the under-privileged. Charity-gifts.org is a great centralised website which will let you browse a variety of different organisations.
- Groupon - Groupon vouchers are great gifts because they last for ages, giving the recipient tons of time to use them, they cover a huge variety of experiences and they save you a bundle. They can be printed and they also don't show the discounted amount the groupon itself cost, only the value of the deal. They run internationally, and you can check for deals in your recipient's local city and surrounding cities as well as national deals.
- Pre-Bookings - Book a concert, show or event in advance and you can usually print tickets or receipts that will allow them to be picked up at the venue. This one is a little less convenient, because it requires that you have knowledge of the recipient's diary.
- Personal Labour - The socially-acceptable IOU, design your own gift certificate that entitles the recipient to a massage, house cleaning, babysitting, or any other service you care to provide.
Things you can grab at the eleventh hour from your local 24-hour supermarket.
- Accompanying Gifts - Appropriate, small essentials or extras that go with a larger gift from yourself or someone else. This mostly applies to things like appliances, vehicles or holidays.
- Baking/Decorating Kits - A well-stocked supermarket should have a variety of things like this in the homebaking aisle. Grab a variety of baking kits like gingerbread, cupcakes etc, pair them with some icing/decorating kits and give to children (or their parents) as an improvised activity-pack. A nice alternative to boxes of sweets as it'll give them something fun to do together and they can eat the result.
- Cosmetic Essentials - If you're strapped for cash as well, you can make your own little gift-set of cheap beauty essentials. Pick up a makeup-bag and grab staples like nail polish remover, cotton pads, make-up remover/wipes, cleanser, etc. You can tailor a custom-set for nailcare, skincare or make-up, depending on the recipient and the store's offerings.
- Posh Tin of Biscuits - This was actually my sister's idea, as an ideal gift to give to a whole bunch of people in an office or workplace. Everyone will end up with loads of tins of sweets, chocolate etc, and biscuits are more workplace-y and shareable. I'm going out after this post to get a nice tin for the staff here.
Products which are only available for a certain time period, and thus could not arrive physically on time.
- TeeFury - TeeFury sells a new t-shirt design each day, and then it's gone. If you happen to need a gift for someone you think would love today or tomorrow's designs, then you're in luck! You can't be held accountable for your late purchase because it wasn't available to buy previously. Print a preview and stick it in a card.
- Boffer - Boffer only sell one thing a day, but they sell it at a great discount. They sell pretty much anything, but it's usually something electronic. They have a list of the previous offers on the right-hand side so you can get a general idea. There are other, similar daily-deal type websites, but I can't think of any others at the moment.
- Auctions - Obviously, auctions are time-sensitive and thus present a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why the gift isn't here and ready to be unwrapped. eBay is an obvious choice, but this only really works if the gift is the only one up there, rather than something you could have easily gotten elsewhere.
Assuming you know your way around your computer, there are more options for last-minute gifts available to you.
- Mix-memory stick - Mix-tapes and CDs are both archaic, and memory sticks are really useful! Grab a USB memory stick from your local store (here, even supermarkets sell basic ones) and fill it with music, films, e-books, games, whatever you want. You can use what's already on your computer or download files, provided they aren't copyright protected. The recipient gets both a bunch of mixed media to enjoy and a useful USB memory stick to keep. If you can't spring for a USB stick, burn a data CD/DVD instead.
- Software-set - If your friend has just reformatted, bought their first computer or a new one, you could similarly package together a bunch of useful programs and either burn them to disc or stick them on a USB memory stick for your friend to keep. If you're broke, stick with freeware/shareware. Things like VLC, Winrar, Firefox/Chrome, Trillian, OpenOffice etc can make set-up of a new system easier.
That's everything I could think of, but feel free to give me your suggestions. I'd like to mention that, although this post uses a lot of links (and a lot of Amazon links) I'm not affiliated with anyone.
If you're not seeing the person on Christmas day, then a lot of the printable gifts could also be e-mailed. Have a great Christmas and, if you left everything last-minute like I do, good luck hiding your disorganisation!