E-Z Does It

The gift certificate, in all its glory, doesn't have to reveal your bad habits

As a seasoned procrastinator, I'm usually able to knock off my holiday shopping with one or two well-executed, caffeine-fueled raids on University Village or Seattle's rejuvenated retail core. But with the increasing prominence of Internet buying, the ability to select under pressure can no longer be considered a point of pride. Indeed, the advent of e-commerce has completely redefined 11th-hour shopping, making the purchase of last-minute gifts easy and accessible to anyone who can wield a mouse.

While you can always turn to Internet titans like Amazon.com or eToys, there are also numerous lesser-known sites that allow you to send a gift on its way across the country in a matter of minutes. And for those who loathe computers as well as malls, there's the telephone—plenty of merchants will charge a gift certificate to your credit card and mail it directly to the recipient. Here's a rundown on what's out there for the undermotivated, time-impaired shopper, along with ways to make a gift certificate feel as personalized as a pair of monogrammed slippers.

One of my favorite gift certificate strategies involves catering to friends' particular dislikes instead of their likes, that is, giving a certificate that makes mundane chores like cleaning house somebody else's problem. Even if you're not up-to-date on someone's pet peeves, it's hard to strike out with the following:

Car wash: Only the most devoted car owner likes to wash and wax at home, and even then it's not good for the salmon. Give the first-class experience of fine auto detailing with a certificate from Michael's Auto and Marine Detail in Ballard (4900 15th NW, 784-9688), where they'll make the average grungy car sparkle inside and out for around $100. Or keep someone's car clean all year long with a booklet of washes from Brown Bear Car Wash, where 10 Bear Essential washes run $62.90 and 10 Beary Good washes can be had for $89.99 (prices do not include sales tax). Order by phone at 706-2200, or purchase a booklet at your local Brown Bear.

Housecleaning: The fastidious folks at Maid in the Northwest (622-7783) will issue a gift certificate for a single top-to-bottom clean or biweekly visits for a year—either way, they'll assign a subcontracted housecleaner to dust-bust those dirty house blues into oblivion. Having been the recipient of such a gift, I can attest that an immaculate kitchen floor and perfectly scrubbed tub bring much joy to the heart of a less-than-perfect hausfrau. (Maid in the Northwest's hourly rates range from $25-$29.)

Groceries: There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but you can arrange for free food, and sometimes you can even get it delivered. Next time you're shopping at Larry's Market, ask your checker to add a gift certificate to whatever you've got sitting on the conveyor belt. Larry's certificates are available in any amount and can be redeemed at their five stores for groceries or catering services. For those who like their food to come to them, the gourmet gurus at deananddeluca.com offer gift certificates in $10 denominations that can be redeemed for everything from Scottish salmon to a bottle of 1998 Petite Sirah.

Of course, just as popular as weeding out tiresome life maintenance chores is the strategy of pandering to people's private indulgences. I've yet to meet a fashion-conscious woman who didn't have a serious thing for shoes, and even guys who hate to groom often appreciate a good bar of soap. Following are some Web destinations designed to play right into their guilty pleasures.

Anyone with a yen for shower gel, lipstick, or fancy shaving cream will have a field day at Sephora.com, where they can choose from over 9,000 skin care, fragrance, cosmetics, and bath and body products. Sephora's eGift Certificates come in $25, $50, $75, and $100 denominations and can be e-mailed to a recipient within 24 hours. Another great Web locale for swanky scented stuff is Beautyhabit.com, a site that specializes in hard-to-find personal care items that also happen to be hard to pronounce (Komenuka Bijin, a line of Japanese skin, hair, and body care products, translates as "rice bran beautiful person").

Although they can't be redeemed at the online store just yet, you can purchase a gift certificate at Nordstromshoes.com in $25, $50, or $75 denominations that can be used when placing a catalog order or at store locations. To purchase different denominations or request expedited shipping, call 1-888-282-6060. If Nordie's shoe selection seems too, um, pedestrian, check out the hip styles at Ped (1100 First, 292-1767), a downtown shoe boutique that outfits men and women for a walk on the wild side. Gift certificates are available over the phone or in person.

If the above suggestions still have you coming up dry, try GiftCertificates.com, where you can send a gift certificate for just about anything, any time of the day or night. With so many last-minute opportunities, it's a wonder they bother extending shopping hours at the mall.

Carolyn Wennblom is a freelance writer in Seattle.

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