Friday was the last cutoff for the U.S. Postal Service's holiday shipping. But if you're still stumped about someone's gift (or if their name slipped your mind and your list), all is not lost. One of the best things about the Internet is that it transcends the physical — though not the commercial — bonds of the holiday season. But just because a gift is electronic, or last-minute, doesn't always make it less thoughtful. There are plenty of ways to buy good gifts that will deliver instantly. Plus, you get to save on gift wrap.
Here are some suggestions:
Subscription boxes — You could rush to send one present now, or take a deep breath and send three, six or 12 throughout the year. Subscription boxes, which give their recipients mystery packages based on a theme, can now be found for almost any interest. Whether you're looking for a gift for someone who wants to spice up their wardrobe or spice up their diet, there's a box out to fit their tastes. Try browsing through Cratejoy or Quarterly for suggestions for a variety of boxes, or maybe just run an online search for “[your interest here] subscription box” and see what turns up.
Experiences — Buying experiences — a hot-air balloon ride, a semester of art classes, a night at the theater, a wine-tasting — has a couple of advantages. For one, they have to be thoughtful, so even if you only thought of someone at the last minute, it really won't seem like a rush job. Two, an experience is not a gift you can really wrap anyway, so there's no shame in sending it electronically.
You can scour sites such as Groupon for prepackaged ideas or just run a search for your recipient's interests in their hometown and see where it takes you. Or fashion one of your own by looking for local businesses such as vineyards, community classes, art stores, spas, cooking stores, athletic groups and food tours with websites that will let you book these types of experiences for someone else. Picking multiple activities can be a nice way to keep the present going throughout the year.
E-books — Books are always popular gifts for the holidays, so why not try their electronic versions? It may not have the heft of a well-wrapped book, but it does have advantages. E-book prices tend to be a little cheaper than hardcovers, so you can buy a whole shelf's worth of books for the reader in your life. Not to mention, it saves a lot of room for travelers who probably aren't looking to pack a library.
You can give e-books in a lot of ways. Amazon's Kindle lets you send e-books from a book's product page. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos is the owner of The Washington Post.) You can also give titles via iBooks by hitting the “gift” option in the share menu from the iBooks app. Or you can go through Google Play with a general gift card to Google's app store. If books aren't quite right, you could consider giving a subscription to a magazine or newspaper, or try an audiobook subscription from a company such as Amazon's Audible.
Streaming video subscriptions — Everyone likes to veg out now and then. And the gift of a streaming video service, such as Hulu or Netflix, gives your loved ones a license to chill. The giving process for some of these subscriptions has become a little more complicated of late, as neither Netflix nor Hulu offers gift codes from their own sites anymore. However, many retailers — including Walmart, Amazon and Newegg — will let you purchase subscription gift cards and deliver them electronically.
If you're looking for something a little more specialized, check for niche streaming services that serve your needs. Acorn TV, for example, could be good for the Anglophile in your life. Or try Crunchyroll for anime fans. Horror fans may want to sink their teeth into Shudder, AMC's horror-only streaming site. There's even a streaming site just for Broadway shows. Or, if your intended gift recipient can't get enough of a particular channel — HBO, Showtime, etc. — see if there is a streaming service just for that channel's shows.
Streaming music subscriptions — Music service subscriptions are another good option for a digital gift, particularly if you never quite understood your Uncle Harold's music taste to begin with. Buy a new subscription or, if your intended recipient already uses a music service — such as Pandora, Spotify, iTunes, etc. — you can buy a premium subscription.
In the case of Apple Music or Google Play Music (which will also get them access to YouTube's premium service, YouTube Red), you can buy a gift card through the appropriate app store.
Donations — Some giftees may prefer material presents. But for those who really do seem to have everything or those who wear their hearts on their sleeves, matching the right recipient to the right charity can be gifting gold. That may be especially relevant during a political year, when big issues beg our attention. Most charities will take online donations and often make it very easy to give in someone else's name. Be sure to include a thoughtful note explaining why you wanted to contribute in the name of the person on your list.
Games — If you have a gamer in your life, it's pretty easy to give the joy of video games online — which is how more than 50 percent of sales are going. You can buy gift cards for the PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo online stores by heading to their websites. If the person on your list is more of a PC fan, there's always the Steam platform, or you can buy cards for individual publishers (like Electronic Arts) or individual games, such as League of Legends, through retailers.
All in all, digital gifts can be just as touching and lovely as any beautifully wrapped present. Though, if you're still feeling guilty, you can always include a homemade cookie or other tasty treat to go along with your gift.