Here's your comprehensive guide for virtual gift-giving.

By Cheyann Neades
December 04, 2020
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Planning holiday gift exchanges can seem overwhelming—especially if your family and friends are located all around the globe. With current safety protocols and travel restrictions in place, virtual holiday gatherings are the way to go this year. With a bit of planning, preparing, and collaborating, you can still find ways to get into the holiday spirit, even when you're miles apart from each other. But how does a virtual gift exchange work, exactly? We've gathered these tips to help you and your loved ones exchange gifts and celebrate the season on safely on screens. And this virtual gathering isn't just limited to the pandemic—use these tips for any year you’re not able to celebrate the holidays together in person. 

Credit: ASIFE/Getty Images

If you don’t have one already, include everyone in a group chat through an app like iMessage (if you all have Apple devices), WhatsApp or Signal. Feel free to come up with a fun and fitting chat name for your group. This will be the home base for any document links, addresses, and general communication. Along with the group chat, decide on the video chat platform that you and your friends will use if you wish to plan over camera. This will be the place that’ll host the gift exchange event. Virtual holiday celebrations are not uncommon this year. Zoom, Google Hangout and Skype are popular video chatting apps, so pick whichever platform you and your squad prefer.

Making sure everyone is on the same page about the price of the gifts is important. Setting a budget for the gifts makes it fair for everyone involved—and there's nothing worse than realizing someone spent way more on your gift than you spent on theirs. Since the gift exchange involves mailing the package, consider postal products and shipping prices in the cost of the gift. Depending on the price limit and shipping costs, finding the best deal for your gifts could be helpful. Do your research on online stores, and feel free to get creative with homemade gifts.

If you plan to ship through the United States Postal Service (USPS), you can view your shipping options, pricing, and track the package on their website. If you're shipping something heavy, a flat rate package is the way to go. Or, avoid a trip to the post office altogether by ordering a gift online and mailing it directly to your recipient. Sites like Amazon and Etsy typically offer a lot of products with free shipping, and you can usually mark the order as a gift so the price is hidden from your recipient. 

The holidays are a busy time for everyone, so it’s important to find a date that works best for all. Send a poll in the group chat of potential times to hop on a video call along with corresponding emojis for a specific date. That way, everyone can respond with an emoji of what date they can (virtually) get together. It’s that easy, and you can have fun with your emoji choices. When choosing a date, make sure to leave enough time for shopping and shipping.

Once the exchange is scheduled, you'll need to draw names if there’s more than two people taking part in the event. Since you can't pull names out of a hat in person, take advantage of free online name generators such as drawnames.com, which allow you to add participant names, exclusions and any details for the gift exchange. Once the information is filled out, you can share the invitation link with your squad and get started.

Because so many people are taking their gift exchanges virtual, services to help you plan the long-distance swaps are becoming available. White Elephant Online is the first online gift exchange platform, and it can help you host a totally virtual event. Here's how it works: Once you invite all the participants, each person will choose a gift to buy online and upload an image of the item—but you won't actually buy the items until the game is over. During the virtual event, participants will see all the photos of the gifts and be able to swap the gifts just like in a real white elephant exchange. At the end of the game, you'll ship the gift you chose to the participant who ended up with your item in the game.

Unique gifts are all in the details. After you find the gift for your bff, make sure to purchase any boxes and wrapping needed to complete it if you plan to mail it yourself. Have fun with the gift decorating: Our DIY gift toppers and printable gift tags will help you make each gift truly festive. Personalizing the gift with a handwritten note or card makes it that much more special. If you want to go the extra mile, get creative with the shipping box as well. Without covering any important shipping labels, draw designs on the box with metallic markers, or purchase holiday-themed shipping boxes from your favorite online shop.

Once all the planning and shopping is finished, make yourself a batch of Christmas cookies and dial in to the virtual event. For the video call itself, take the time to plan more than just the gift exchange. Keep in mind that if you're using the virtual white elephant platform, no one will have a physical gift to open on the day of your event, so you'll want to have a few other games to play online. If you're shipping gifts to the participants before the video call begins, start by making sure each person has their gift, and take turns opening them on camera. Then, transition to a virtual game night for even more quality time together. Don’t forget a virtual Christmas background and a festive cocktail to top it all off.

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