Spoiler-Free Holidays: How to Keep Your Online Shopping a Secret

The holidays are just around the corner—and if you’re anything like me, you’re already planning some super-awesome surprise gifts for your favorite people.

Mysteriously enough, though, everything you’ve thought about buying for a gift seems to be popping up in ads everywhere else you go online. If your spouse shares your laptop or the kids borrow your tablet and phone, you’ve got some reasons to worry. Those ads just might just give your gift plans away!

Well…don’t panic.

Once you understand how ads for everything on your list are following you around the internet, you can take charge of the situation and control what you (and other people) see on your electronics.

Why Do Ads Seem to Follow You All Around the Internet?

Ads tailored to your every interest can make it seem like your computer’s clairvoyant, but the only mystical thing actually going on here is the magic of marketing!

Advertising efforts in the digital age have grown increasingly sophisticated—and the competition for your holiday dollars is pretty fierce out there. Companies are doing everything they can to make it easy for you to shop with them. Part of their efforts includes something called “remarketing” or “retargeted ads.”

How Does Remarketing work?

Remarketing makes use of cookie-based technology to deliver hyper-specific advertising right to your screen. Roughly, it works like this:

  1. You think about buying your spouse a fantastic leather jacket for a holiday gift.
  2. You visit a site that sells jackets and browse through their selection. You might even put a jacket into your shopping cart.
  3. The company’s website sends a tiny piece of data—or “cookie”—to your browser.
  4. You can’t decide which jacket your spouse will like the best. After all, this is a big purchase—and you want to get it right!
  5. You leave that site and go look elsewhere—or move on to something else for a while.
  6. Eventually, you start to browse around on Facebook or some other site that’s supported by advertising.
  7. The cookie that’s on your browser gives information back to the advertising network—basically reminding the network that you already looked at a great leather jacket on a site but left without buying it.
  8. The advertising network wisely shows you a hyper-specific ad for a leather jacket that’s either the same or similar to the one you were considering earlier!
  9. You will probably see ads for related items, like leather gloves.
  10. If you’re logged into Google on Chrome (and most people are), the ads will pick up on all the other devices attached to the same account—including your cell phone and tablet.

Retargeted ads are actually great for consumers. Think about it for a moment: how often do you make a big purchase the first time you go looking? Less than 2% of consumers actually buy anything the first time they visit an online store—which means that 98% of us need to think about something for a while before we’re willing to commit!

Remarketing is hyper-specific marketing at it’s finest—and it gives you an intensely personal online experience! If finding the perfect holiday gift for someone you love is important to you, retargeting can help you remember what you’ve already seen—or find just the right alternative.

How Else Does Remarketing Benefit You?

Some people find the hyper-specific ads they see everywhere annoying or overwhelming—which is why we’re going to show you how to stop them. However, a lot of consumers find retargeted ads to be useful—especially around the holidays!

Consider this:

  • Remarketing can prevent you from accidentally forgetting an important gift.
  • The ads can remind you of a shopping cart you didn’t mean to abandon.
  • Ads for related products can lend inspiration to your shopping list.
  • Remarketing can alert you to special offers and deals that you might otherwise miss.
  • Remarketing makes your online experience seamless across different devices. You can start a gift search on a laptop and finish it on your smartphone without starting over.

There’s really no downside to retargeted ads—which may be why 25% of consumers actually enjoy them! Remember, retargeted ads are all related to something you’re actually interested in—so you’re seeing ads that you are more likely to find engaging—instead of ads for things you don’t want.

If finding the perfect holiday gift for someone you love is important to you, retargeting can help you remember what you’ve already seen—or find just the right alternative.

How Can You Keep Your Online Gift-Shopping A Secret?

While it’s always been a little bit tricky to hide the holiday gifts, online shopping, cookies, and remarketing do make it harder. When the holiday season is in full swing, local search marketing efforts are in high gear and remarketing software is working overtime, here’s how to keep your shopping secret:

Wipe Out Your Browsing History

If you have a teenager in the household, the odds are good that he or she knows exactly how to look at what gifts you’ve been viewing. Give yourself a clean slate before you do anything else.

Go into your browser’s cache file and delete your browsing data. You can delete all your cookies—or you can just delete the ones you want to hide.

This won’t stop the retargeted ads, however, because deleting your cookies only erases the tracking data you have on a given website—not the tracking information that website has on you!

Go Incognito

For all your future holiday shopping—on any of your devices—use incognito mode in Chrome. This opens a new window and stops your gadgets from accepting any cookies. Your browsing history will then remain private.

Use Separate Profiles

Create separate browsing profiles for your family members. The avatar button at the top right of your Chrome browser allows you to create separate log-ins for your kids and spouse — which means you can keep enjoying the benefits of retargeted ads while your shopping stays secret.

Do the same for sites like eBay and Amazon, if you share an account with your spouse and do some shopping there. Family shopping accounts trip a lot of people up when they’re trying to keep holiday gifts a secret.

The Takeaway

There’s no reason to worry about ads that seem to follow you all over the internet. In fact, you may find them really useful during the holidays. Just take the necessary steps to keep your spouse and kids from figuring out their gifts before the packages even get under the tree!

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Caz is the Director of Marketing for Boostability and has deep experience blending business goals and marketing tactics into comprehensive company strategies. Her creative innovation and expertise has helped shape customer experiences and drive continual engagement for a variety of companies and products including Sony Music Entertainment and SpeedTV.

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