Buying Christmas presents online? Check your dates first

Some online retailers will let you buy a present on Christmas morning for immediate download, but if it's a PC you're after, you'll have to plan ahead

If you wake up with a Christmas morning hangover and find you've drunk that 12-year-old bottle of single malt you bought for your dad, it is still possible to buy a last-minute present thanks to the Internet.

Several online stores, such as Amazon.co.uk and Dabs.com, now sell software that you can download immediately instead of having to wait for the packaged version to arrive by post. But you may feel that downloading software onto someone's PC and then telling them "it's there" lacks some of the ceremony that is supposed to go with Christmas presents. If that's the case, some stores, such as Amazon, offer gift certificates: you buy the certificate and Amazon delivers it to the email address of the recipient; they can then use it to buy physical goods from Amazon's Web site or pick and download software themselves.

The system in place at Dabs.com takes the buyer through the normal purchase process on the company's Download Store -- once complete, they will receive an online confirmation page with the download button and a receipt. The confirmation page has option to download the product immediately or later. So instead of downloading the product yourself, you can forward the confirmation page with the download button and the receipt through to your chosen recipient.

The only point to note, says Dabs, is that the software will be registered to you, not to the recipient. Oh, and the product can only be downloaded by one recipient.

As for more tangible gifts, most online retailers will be accepting orders up until the final few days before Christmas this year. The last date for placing orders with Dabs.com for a Christmas delivery is Monday 17 December. Dabs sells ready-made PCs, but if you're thinking of buying a built-to-order PC you may need to allow more time.

At Simply.co.uk, you can order up until 19 December anything that is in stock (the Web site indicates out-of-stock items), except PCs. A spokesperson there says it takes five to seven working days to build and test a PC, "So on the safe side, if you want to order a PC and be sure of getting it in time for Christmas, you need to order it before 10 December".

At Amazon.co.uk, the final shipping date is on Sunday, 23 December, which means the final date for orders is Friday, 21 December. However, a spokesperson says that ordering this late will not guarantee delivery since the goods will be shipped first class. Guaranteed delivery is possible by courier, but this costs extra. Full details of the pricing is available on Amazon's site.

Tiny Computers has not set a cut-off date yet for pre-Christmas orders, but intends to set a date shortly. However, Tiny says it is confident that it will be able to deliver products right up until Christmas Eve, and is expecting to be able to take orders until the end of play on Friday, 21 December.

Tiny says it is looking at implementing vouchers on the Web site but have not done them yet. "We are hoping to make them available early next year sometime in January or February," said a spokeswoman, "but they won't be ready in time for Christmas."

The company did until several months ago allow customers to buy software and download it from the site, but stopped this service because it didn't generate a lot of interest. "But now, looking at our competitors, it looks like people are getting more interested in this service so we might bring it back," said the Tiny spokeswoman.

At Jungle.com the last date for ordering goods online is 20 December. Like some of the other companies, Jungle does offer gift vouchers on its site. At Dixons' online store, last orders for pre-Christmas delivery is 17 December, but in this case the bricks-and-mortar stores will open through Christmas Eve.

See ZDNet UK's Christmas Shopping Guide for the best gift ideas, the latest price checks and the editors' picks.

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