Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
If a friend’s big event has crept up on you, you may have just found yourself in the market for buying a last-minute digital gift, which you know will arrive in time for their celebrations. But what present will you get? And how?
These days, buying virtual gifts for your friends and family is actually more common than you might think. It’s not too surprising though, considering the variety of digital products available, the number of stores which will allow online purchases of gifts and ultimately the recipient’s power to make some choices about the product they receive. In fact, for relatives living afar it could be extremely wise to consider buying digital gifts for kids, as they often get to choose exactly what they purchase and they get instant gratification when they do.
Buying an iTunes gift card is extremely versatile as it means your recipient can purchase music from the iTunes Store, apps from the iOS App Store, apps from the Mac App Store or eBooks (well, iBooks) from the iBookstore. There are a few things to keep in mind though. Firstly, make sure they are an iOS or a Mac user. If they’re not, they will be limited to buying music or video from the iTunes Store. Secondly, make sure you buy the gift card for the country they live in (or the country they secretly purchase from using a workaround). If you buy a US iTunes gift card, it will need to be spent in the US store.
If you want to purchase an iTunes gift card for someone in another country, it may be best to purchase a physical gift card from a department store local to them, which thankfully can usually be done online and posted directly to the recipient. This way, you know they will be able to use the funds with their iTunes account.
If you are buying gifts for kids or teenagers, consider buying them an iTunes allowance. This will mean that they have regular on-demand funds to purchase apps, books, video and music without needing to have a credit card themselves.
If your intended recipient loves gaming, they probably already have a Steam account. If they don’t, they can always sign up for one after they receive your gift. To buy a gift on Steam, just browse the site until you find the Steam games you want to buy. Make sure you pay attention to the icons that let you know which operating systems the game will run on. If you know they use a Mac or Linux machine, just head straight for the best games for their operating system. Add the games you want to the cart, then when you make your payment you can choose “Purchase as a Gift” and give it to a friend using their email address. If you are a Steam user yourself, there are a few other options available to you.
Amazon is not just a great place to buy Kindle eBooks as a gift. If you buy an Amazon gift card, it can be redeemed for all sorts of merchandise. Digitally, this could mean eBooks, MP3s, games, movies and more (provided the recipient lives in the same country as your chosen Amazon store). Your gift recipient can also get goods posted to them using the gift card. Cards can only be used at the specific store it was bought from and their affiliates. For instance, Amazon.com cards can’t be used at Amazon.co.uk, but they can be used at myhabit.com. You might want to ask your recipient which Amazon store they shop the most before you buy the gift card.
A friendly feature of the Amazon eGift cards is the fact you can suggest an item they might like. They don’t have to go with it, but it shows some thought on your part and also gives them room to make their own decision.
If the person you’re buying for loves their XBox for gaming, they might love getting an XBox Live gift. Options include gift cards for XBox points (800/2100/4200 points) or you can prepay their XBox Live membership for 3 or 12 months.
Another XBox themed digital gift idea is the XBox Music Pass, which can be purchased as physical gift cards through retailers like Amazon or Target. However, this gift requires that your recipient sign up to the service using a credit card and when their 30-day trial pass (and your gift card) expires they will be charged for the service until they cancel. XBox Music can be be used on PCs and tablets running Windows 8 or RT, Windows Phones, plus your XBox 360 (if you have an XBox LIVE Gold membership). Music content varies in different regions worldwide.
Given how easy it is for people to purchase digital gifts for friends and relatives, you’d think Google Play would offer an option for buying one online for purchase of their digital apps, books, music and video. They don’t – yet. What you can do, however, is purchase a physical gift card and post it to your recipient. If you want to purchase that card online, they point you in the direction of their online retail partners.
If you live in an area where Facebook Gifts is up and running, this is an easy way to use Facebook to digitally purchase a physical gift for a friend. What makes this service special is that you don’t need to know your recipient very well – as long as you are friends on Facebook. All you do is choose the gift, add a message and pay for it. Facebook will instantly let them know they have a gift waiting for them and will ensure the delivery address is correct before posting it. As a bonus, if they don’t accept the gift you won’t be charged.
Barnes & Noble
A gift card for Barnes & Noble can be bought online and will allow the user to buy eBooks for their Nook as well as other merchandise from the store. If you buy an eGift card, as opposed to a regular gift card, the recipient can use it straight away to buy digital gifts or to place an order online.
Obviously, when it comes to digital gift ideas, any online subscription service your recipient likes is a good idea. There are a number of popular services that have gift card options, so all you need to do is work out which services they enjoy using and purchase the gift. For most of these services, using the gift is simple and if they already have a subscription their expiry date will merely be extended further by your purchase.
Some great services which offer digital gift cards include:
A new innovation is Giftly’s ability to give a real-life gift to anyone, anywhere via an iOS application. Your recipient needs to have the iOS app as well, and they need to purchase the gift themselves. Once purchased, Giftly transfers your gift payment to their credit card as reimbursement.
A great number of charities offer gift cards for direct donations or more specific things like a goat for a needy community. All you need to do is choose your recipient’s favourite charity, find their gift card section and let them email the good news to your recipient directly.
Did you notice a service missing from this list? Feel free to tell us your favourite store or gift services online for buying digital gifts.