CBSN

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Ideas On The Web

Larry Magid as Santa, courtesy of Gizmoz.com
CBS
With Christmas only a few days away, it's getting a bit late to buy presents and send cards, and you're nearly out of time to order gifts online. Wal-Mart says it can get your presents delivered by December 24th if you order before 11:30 p.m. Pacific time today (Thursday) and pay extra for one-day shipping. Target will let you order as late as Friday but, again, it will cost you. Amazon's one-day shipping will work as late as 1:00 p.m. Pacific on Saturday.

But be careful. A company's promise to deliver on-time is no iron-clad guarantee. There are variables they can't control and there are some items that simply can't be shipped that soon.

Sears will let you order online up until the 24th but you'll have to pick up the merchandise at a Sears store. I've done this a few times and it is still a lot faster than having to actually shop at the store. If you don't get your item within five minutes, you get compensated with a $5 coupon.

Gift cards are always an option for procrastinators. I've been known to buy them online as late as Christmas Day. Some merchant Web sites let you print out a gift certificate to put under the tree. Worst case, you can make your own or have it delivered by e-mail.

It's also a bit late to send out greeting cards by mail but there are several services that will let you send online cards. If you do send cards online, make sure you're dealing with a reputable site. Some of the sleazier greeting card sites have been known to bombard both the sender and recipient with lots of obnoxious pop-up ads and spam or - worse - put spyware on your PC.

Three of the most popular and reputable sites, AmericanGreetings.com, BlueMountain.com and Egreetings.com are owned by AG Interactive. AmericanGreetings and BlueMountain charge for their e-cards but EGreetings is free and advertiser-supported. Hallmark.com also lets you send out greeting cards for a fee. Ecards.plaxo.com offers this as well. Even the fee-based services are offering free-trials so check them out.

Electronic cards are not just online representations of paper cards. Many have animation and sound and some let you upload a photograph for a more personalized card. You can have them delivered immediately or enter a date - such as December 25 - to have them delivered just-in-time. Some of these sites let you send cards up to a year in advance so now might be a good time to send out online cards for birthdays, Valentine's Day or other upcoming occasions.

AmericanGreetings has a service that lets you create your own customized printed cards. For $14.99 a year (you can get a 30-day free trial), Windows users can use their Web-based service to select cards that you can customize with your own text or even your own digital photo. I was impressed at how easy it is to create a pretty nice-looking card. Even when you add in the cost of ink and paper, it's about the same price as buying about six or seven cards at the store. Be sure you use good paper stock that's thick enough to avoid bleed-through. You can get ink jet card stock at any office supply store.

There are also free Web services you can use to create holiday animations that might amuse your friends. Two of my favorites are Elfyourself.com and Gizmoz.com. ElfYourself lets you take a digital picture of yourself or up to four other people's faces to create dancing elves to offer a jazzy rendition of "Jingle Bells." Gizmoz can turn you into Santa Claus. Not only will your face be wearing a Santa hat but if you have a microphone on your PC or Mac, you can record a message that viewers will hear. The amazing thing about the site is that your voice will be lipped-synced so it will appear as if you're really saying it. Gizmoz offers many other animations besides the Santa hat; You can see and hear examples of both my Elf and Santa pages at http://pcanswer.com/holiday/.



A syndicated technology columnist for over two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."