From computer chip shortages to backlogged ports, a number of factors might make it difficult to find some gift items on store shelves this year. And even if you can find the gift you want, expected shipping delays may make it hard to get it to the intended recipient in time.
The answer may be to skip the presents you can wrap and give a virtual or digital gift instead. These go beyond mere gift cards and include presents that can be redeemed for subscription services, fitness programs, downloadable games and more.
Here are nine of the best virtual and digital gifts to give this holiday season:
-- Meal subscription service.
-- Cameo from a celebrity.
-- Fitness program.
-- Animal sponsorship.
-- Downloadable video game.
-- Clothing subscription service.
-- Virtual workshop.
-- Charity gift card.
[READ: The Best Time to Buy Everything.]
Meal Subscription Service
For many households, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a resurgence in home cooking. Not everyone has found their stride through, and a gift card for a meal subscription service can be the perfect gift for those who struggle with meal planning.
"Especially for parents, a meal subscription service is an amazing gift," says Bobbi Rebell, personal finance expert for Tally, a debt payoff app. "It saves time and mental energy since you're not having to think about what to cook and the ingredients are already portioned out."
Meal subscription services can also be good choices for young adults who are working to hone their cooking skills. Blue Apron, HelloFresh and Home Chef are examples of popular options.
Cameo From a Celebrity
If your friend or family member has a favorite musician, actor or politician, you may be able to purchase them a personalized message through the website Cameo. Customers can purchase a customized, prerecorded message from their selected celebrity, and one-on-one live video calls are also an option in some cases.
Pricing on Cameo varies widely with some social media influencers and creators charging as a little as $15 or $20 for a video message. For bigger names, you'll pay more. Tom Fenton, who played Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series of movies, charges $599, while a message from boxer Mike Tyson will set you back $20,000.
Even with gyms largely reopened now, some people may prefer to work out in their home. In that case, membership to a fitness program or app might be the perfect virtual gift.
"(It's) a great fit for anyone and everyone, no matter your fitness background or experience level," says Kevin Transue, CEO of fitness app Yes.Fit. With Yes.Fit, people can run digital races, complete fitness challenges or access exercises on demand. Popular events include a Forrest Gump virtual race which takes participants across the country over the course of a year and The Wizard of Oz series. Finisher awards are shipped to participants at the end of each race.
Other fitness programs worth considering for virtual gifts include Bulldog Online Yoga, Les Mills+ and the Peloton app.
[See: 25 Practical Gift Ideas.]
For animal lovers, sponsoring an animal or exhibit at a local zoo or aquarium may be the perfect virtual gift. Depending on the institution, sponsorship may be available at a variety of levels and include such perks as a certificate, photo of the animal or plush toy.
Some charities, such as the World Wildlife Fund, also have options for symbolic adoptions of wild animals. These may come with an adoption kit that includes fact sheets, a plush toy and other extras. Or in the event of a virtual adoption, the recipient may get an emailed certificate instead.
Audiobooks and podcasts are having a moment right now, with many people loving the flexibility of being able to listen to while cleaning, commuting or completing other tasks. And that means they are a prime choice for a digital gift.
"Audiobook subscriptions or premium subscriptions to paid podcast platforms are a great option for someone in your life who you know loves to read or listen to podcasts or for busy parents who wish they had more time to read," Rebell says.
Audible may be the best-known subscription service for audiobooks and podcasts, but Libro.fm, Audiobooks.com and Downpour are other options to consider. With most services costing less than $15 a month, this can be an affordable gift as well.
Downloadable Video Game
If you have a gamer in the house, you may not need to buy them a physical copy of the video game on their holiday list. Many popular titles -- from Far Cry 6 to Mario Party Superstars -- are available as digital downloads.
Plus, games like Roblox, Minecraft and Fortnite offer gift cards that can be redeemed for in-game currency. Depending on the game, these may be used to purchase character outfits, new worlds, battle passes and virtual items.
Clothing Subscription Service
"After a year or two in sweatpants, who isn't ready to upgrade their wardrobe?" Rebell asks. Clothing rental companies can help the fashion lover in your life try on new styles and designs without any obligation to commit to a purchase.
Rent the Runway, FashionPass and Nuuly are all examples of these subscription services. Some, like Rent the Runway, focus on higher-end clothes from brand name designers. Cheaper services may send out more affordable clothing.
Pricing for many subscription services run between $70 - $100 per month, with some companies offering unlimited rentals and others capping how many outfits you can borrow each month. Services may also offer one-time rentals which can be a good choice for those who want to wear something special for a party or upcoming event.
Traditionally, if you wanted to take a cooking class or art lesson, you'd need to find a local course taught in your area. However, thanks to the pandemic, many of these workshops have moved to the virtual realm and can be accessed by anyone in any location. Giving a virtual workshop as a gift can also help support artisans who may have seen their sales diminish during the past year.
"ClassBento is the only platform designed for supporting local artisans who want to share their craft with their community," says John Tabari, co-CEO and co-founder of ClassBento. The company offers in-person classes in California's Bay Area and New York City, but virtual workshops let anyone learn how to craft natural candles, seasonal décor, cocktails and more.
"We handle all the payment and logistics involved in teaching a class, including kit delivery, so artisans can devote all their energy to doing what they love most," Tabari says.
Other companies offering virtual workshops include Skillshare, CreativeLive and MasterClass.
[Looking for more course options? Check out our SkillBuilder Course Catalog.]
Charity Gift Card
For the person who truly has everything, a donation to a charity may be a meaningful gift. However, rather than selecting a specific charity on their behalf, let them choose the recipient by giving a charity gift card.
"Many of us have the privilege of comfort and having far too much stuff," says Marina Glogovac, president and CEO of CanadaHelps, a website that makes it easy to donate to Canadian charities online. "With a charity gift card, the recipient chooses the charity to support, and the sender receives the charitable tax receipt."
TisBest and Charity on Top are two websites that offer charity gift cards for U.S. organizations, and Glogovac notes these cards can make good holiday gifts for employees as well.