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How to shop on Amazon without ruining the holidays

Keep your holiday shopping secrets secret.

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops, desktops, all-in-one PCs, streaming devices, streaming platforms
Matt Elliott
4 min read
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.

Watch this: Shop for gifts on Amazon without giving away surprises

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.

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.

Turn off notifications

Setting up a second profile with Amazon Household can prevent someone on your list sneaking a peek at your Amazon order history, but shipping notifications can still spoil the surprise. For the month of December, I turn off notifications for Amazon on my iPhone and iPad to keep my kids guessing until the big day. On an iOS device, go to Settings > Notifications, tap Amazon and then toggle off Allow Notifications.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Erase history

Another way Amazon can give unwanted hints to your gift recipients is with its recommendation engine. Your kids or spouse can see recommendations on Amazon's site based on your your browsing habits and purchase history. 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.

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 month of 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 10-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.

Originally published on Dec. 2, 2015.
Update, Nov. 26, 2018: Added information about disabling shipping notifications.

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