You might enjoy hearing an excited “Oh honey, you shouldn’t have!” from your life partner, after ripping open the box of a sweet pair of wireless headphones.
But chances are you’d prefer it on Christmas morning, by the tree — instead of on December 19, on your doorstep, in front of the delivery person.
Alas, the popularity of online shopping has added a new wrinkle when it comes to buying gifts for loved ones – especially those living under the same roof – and so we’re now forced to intercept packages from couriers, bury email receipts, scrub our web history, and pay with gift cards to avoid curious charges on a credit card bill.
That’s a change from the the old days, when you may have paid cash for your partner’s present in a mall, and then hid it in the home until December 25.
If you’re unsure how to cover your technological tracks, the following are a few suggestions.
Shop on your smartphone
While you might share a personal computer at home, you probably have separate smartphones, locked with a PIN or biometrics login (such as using your fingerprint, iris, or face).
Therefore, use your mobile web browser, or an app, to secretly buy the family gifts.
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Gift cards, secondary accounts
If you don’t want to use gift cards to cover your tracks – which you can purchase at gas stations and convenience stores – you can also create a separate credit card or bank account, to avoid ruining the surprise.
Some savvy (nay, sneaky) shoppers set up a free webmail account, too, such as a Gmail address, for online shopping. This way, emailed receipts only go to this account installed on your phone.
More: Gift cards not just for the holidays anymore
Scrub your history
Your online activity follows you around, so it’s important to clear your history and cache often – especially if you’re sharing the laptop or desktop with your significant other (and attentive kids).
Otherwise, if you’re researching a new 4K TV to surprise the family, everyone who browses the web (or uses a search engine) after you may see gratuitous advertisements for televisions – and thus, connect the dots. D’oh!
The option to clear history and cache will be in the Settings or Options area of your web browser, usually accessible in the top right of the page. Some browsers offer a “private” or “incognito” browsing option, too.
Some online stores and marketplaces are helping shoppers keep a secret.
Amazon Prime members, for example, could set up Amazon Household, which allows everyone in the home – up to two parents and up to four kids – to each have their own respective shopping history, wish lists, and notifications. Amazon Household also lets you share Amazon Prime perks and your library of purchased digital content (between adults).
Non-Amazon Prime members, on the other hand, can also “archive” an order, which will hide gift purchases from your order history (look under the “Your Orders” section). Similarly, Amazon has a “don’t spoil my surprises” option for its wish list feature, as it’ll mark bought items as unpurchased.
Another Amazon tip: Go to “Your Browsing History” section then click “Remove all items.” Or turn off your account’s Browsing History entirely by clicking on “Turn off browsing history.”
More: These are the 5 best deals you can get on Amazon right now
Ship it elsewhere
To avoid the family seeing their gifts as parcels on the porch, choose to deliver the packages to an alternate address, such as a workplace, neighbor’s house, another family member, or opt for a buy-online-and-pick-up-in-store option.
If you’re shopping on Amazon, you can also ship to a nearby Amazon Locker, which are self-serve delivery kiosks located in more than 2,000 spots across the country. Arrange to ship your gifts there and then discretely pick it up when you have the time.
Surf Report readers, do you have any “secret shopping” tips of your own to share? Be sure to post your suggestions in the Comments section.