Pretty much every 1980s sitcom had a holiday episode where someone forgot to buy gifts and ended up getting their family members whatever you could buy at a convenience store. Sometimes the character would be buying last-minute gifts due to learning a lesson that taught him or her not to be selfish; other times it was just using someone being forgetful to set up an easy joke.
The internet has made this concept an outdated one. Anyone with a smartphone can order gift cards, which can be delivered electronically from anywhere at any time. That, of course, may not be a very thoughtful gift (and the recipient will know you waited until the last minute), but it's better than a convenience store phone charger or pack of gum.
Of course, you may have relatives who would enjoy a six pack and a rain poncho, or maybe some scratch-off lottery cards and a giant soda. For them, the convenience store will be open. But for folks who want more conventional holiday gifts, you still might have time to get them what they want.
You still have options
The last days you can order with free two-day shipping from Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) and be guaranteed delivery by Christmas have passed. That's also true for any packages handled by the United States Postal Service, FedEx , and UPS (though there are some higher-priced shipping options , and Amazon does offer one-day and same-day shipping in some cases).
For most people, however, that means that if you're sending a gift to someone you won't be seeing on Christmas then you're back to the digital gift card option. Giving digital gift cards does not have to be a bad or lazy gift -- but if you generically send every person on your list a Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX) gift card... they might catch on.
Many, if not most, retailers offer digital gift card options for immediate delivery. If you pick a thoughtful gift for each person still on your list, then you can somewhat cover up the fact that you waited until the last minute.
Stores will be open
If you're going to see the person or can drop off a gift to put under the Christmas tree, then you have more choices. Hours vary, but most malls will be open until at least 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve (check your local options to make sure). In addition, a number of retailers will be open until 6 p.m. or later, including:
- Walmart: 6 p.m.
- Target: 10 p.m.
- Kmart: 10 p.m.
- Sears: 6 p.m.
- Macy's : 6 p.m.
- Kohl's : 6 p.m.
Check with your local store before waiting to shop later in the day on Christmas eve. There are exceptions to these closing times based on local laws and policies at various shopping centers.
Don't waste money
If you forgot someone important on your gift list it's tempting to spend whatever it takes to get your gift in under the wire. It's better, however, to admit your mistake. That might mean giving a digital gift card, or giving the person a card with a nice note explaining that you planned poorly and their gift will be arriving after the holiday.
People miss deadlines, forget to get gifts, or wait until their desired choice has sold out. When those things happen, it's better to be honest than to buy something that meets the gift-giving obligation but does not make the recipient happy.
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John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, FedEx, and Starbucks. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .