Need a last-minute present? Or planning ahead for an upcoming birthday or special occasion? You can't go wrong purchasing gift cards from these Internet retailers.

By Christina Tynan-Wood

I made a gigantic note on my calendar and put sticky notes that read "Don't Forget Di's Birthday!" on every flat surface in my house. Yet, suddenly, there I was at 11:36 p.m. on my sister's big day—facing the cold, hard fact that I hadn't called, texted, e-mailed, or even sent a tacky online card. In my mind her existence is very much something worth celebrating. Still, I'd done nothing. In other words, I was hitting a new low.

I had 24 minutes to get it together and salvage the situation. Literally, the clock was ticking.

11:37 "Quick! What would I want?" I asked myself. Well, that's a no-brainer: shoes. Obviously it was too late for that. But even if I had plenty of time, that wouldn't work. It's a long-running joke between us that we just don't get one another's taste in footwear. Okay. Think. Yes. What she would want is for me to bring her to a nice shoe store and slap down my credit card on the counter.

11:40 Just like that, I was on to something. I went to and typed "gift certificate" into the search bar at the top of the screen. This took me directly to an order form. I filled in her name and e-mail address and added a cute personal note about a virtual shopping spree, then charged the transaction to my credit card and hit Send.

11:50 Ten long minutes passed while I worried that maybe she'd gone to bed early. Then I got an e-mail. "OMG! Thanks so much! I was having a crappy day right up until this moment. I'm about to go shopping! Kisses!"

From Slacker Sister to Birthday Hero in 14 minutes, and I didn't even leave the house. Good stuff.

Truthfully, this wasn't the first time. I haven't gone gift shopping (except for the occasional social outing with a friend) in a mall since the '90s. For most recipients, I just log on and hit Send. It started as a fallback position when I found myself unprepared (as above) but just as often, a virtual gift card is better than buying something I have to pack and ship. And most people appreciate the chance to pick something they want.

My sister loved her shoe-shopping extravaganza so much that I went back to Zappos and arranged to send her another when her birthday rolls around again. So next year I can skip the self-loathing and the blizzard of sticky notes. Somewhere, a tree is thanking me.

Useful Sites

These e-tailers are my favorites for sending gift cards—you're guaranteed a psyched recipient. (search for Gift Certificate). At this point, pretty much anything can be purchased through this megasite, making it truly universal. ( Shoes, clothes, sunglasses, and other accessories. Once an order is placed, merchandise arrives with uncanny speed. (How on earth does Zappos do it?) Last-minute need not mean impersonal—this site can turn uploaded photos into posters, canvas prints, books, and more. ( Give a month of unlimited streaming video via PC, Mac, or TV plus one DVD at a time for $10. (click on Gift Cards). Fun, funky site with an unreal array of socks, stockings, leggings, tights, and similar items. A gift card from here is redeemable not just at Gap but also at its affiliate brands, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Piperlime, and Athleta.

Originally published in the February 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.