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How to shop on Amazon without ruining the holidays

Keep your holiday shopping secret by setting up an Amazon Household and prevent prying eyes from seeing presents in your order history.

Matt Elliott/CNET

As the calendar turns to December, my kids maintain they still believe in Santa -- but only, I suspect, in an effort to keep the gravy train rolling. They are certainly more dubious in the summer months of the magical fat man and his challenging delivery schedule, flying reindeer or no. Would an admission of disbelief, however, result in no presents under the tree on Christmas morning? They aren't ready to risk it.

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Whether they truly believe or not, I don't want them digitally snooping this holiday season. They borrow the family iPad frequently and use the Amazon app to come up with gift ideas. When they're using the app, they're but two taps away (Menu button > Your Orders) from seeing my Amazon order history and any Christmas gifts I've ordered for them. And I'm too lazy to sign out after each Amazon shopping session.

Amazon Household to the rescue

To prevent digital snooping, accidental or otherwise, I've turned to Amazon Household. With it, I can share Prime benefits along with digital content, including e-books, apps and games. Really, I use it just to have two separate order histories.

To sign up, head to the Amazon Household page. You can add one other adult along with up to four teens and four children. A Prime membership can be shared among the two adult Household members, but you don't need to be a Prime member to set up a Household.

amazon-household

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

In order to share Prime benefits with the other adult Household member, you need to be the primary Prime member and not an invited guest. Amazon Student Prime members aren't eligible to form an Amazon Household either, no matter how tight you may be with your roommates.

With an Amazon Household, you can create a second Amazon profile to use for your holiday shopping to keep your order history clean on your primary account. For me, I'm going to use my MacBook as my holiday shopping portal for Amazon, since my kids think any device without a touchscreen isn't worth their time. They can happily go about their shopping using the Amazon app on the iPad without accidentally or purposefully seeing presents in my order history.

Erase history

Without employing Amazon Household to cover your tracks, your browsing habits and purchase history can spoil a holiday surprise. Thankfully, you can tell Amazon's recommendation engine to ignore certain items you've purchased, and you can erase and disable your browsing history.

To erase individual items from your browsing history, click Browsing History under the search box at the top of Amazon's home page and then click the Remove button next to any item you don't want anyone else to see.

To erase your entire browsing history, go to the Browsing History page, click Manage history on the right and then click the Remove all items button.

amazon-manage-history

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

While you're here, you might want to click the toggle switch to turn off Browsing history -- at least for the months of November and December.

You can also delete and disable your browsing history from the Amazon mobile app by going to Your Account > Browsing history > Manage.

Kill recommendations

Deleting and disabling your browsing history isn't enough to protect against spoiling a holiday surprise, because Amazon offers recommendations based on the categories you've been browsing. Using my 9-year-old son as an example, I don't want him to stumble across Nerf gun recommendations when he's going to unwrap a giant Nerf gun on Christmas morning. 

To remove a product from recommendation consideration, you will need to access your Amazon account from the web (I can't find a way to do this on the mobile app). From Amazon's home page, click Browsing History under the search box and then click Improve Your Recommendations on the line just below Browsing History near the top of the page. For any product you don't want Amazon using for its recommendations, click the box for Don't use for recommendations or This was a gift. According to Amazon, either option excludes a purchase from being considered in your recommendations.

Editor's note, Nov. 15, 2017: This post was originally published on Dec. 2, 2015 and has since been updated to include new information.

Holiday Gift GuideCNET's full gift guide, including dozens of products priced under $25, $50 and $100.