Online shopping is bigger than ever this year, setting records and eclipsing Black Friday, but there?s a trade-off for that convenience ? it?s upended the tradition and joy of surprise that comes from hiding a Christmas present. Instead of hiding gifts in the closet or car trunk, shoppers now must intercept the deliveryman, hide email receipts in obscure folders, scrub their Internet history and buy with gift cards so a nosy spouse doesn?t spot charges on the credit card.
Even Web-savvy shoppers have been exposed when a loved one noticed targeted advertising that uses a customer?s search history to suggest similar purchases.
Tyler Silvey said he woke up to an email alert recently from Amazon, suggesting an array of iPhone 6 cases. He quickly deduced that his wife, Corbyn, had been using his computer to search for a case as a gift.
?I just kind of put two and two together and knew she was getting me a case,? said Silvey, 23. ?I just kind of laughed about it.?
He hasn?t yet told his wife about the Amazon email. ?I?ll probably just not even tell her,? he said. ?I?ll let her surprise me.?
About 27 percent of adult U.S. shoppers plan to do as much of their holiday shopping online as possible this year, with another 29 percent expecting to do more than half of it online, according to a recent CivicScience survey of nearly 15,000 people.
Online sales in November and December are expected to increase from 8 percent to 11 percent of total sales compared with last holiday season ? bringing retailers as much as $105 billion, according to the National Retail Federation?s online arm, Shop.org.
Shoppers need to remember that in many ways they have less privacy when shopping online than they do in stores, said Trae Bodge, senior lifestyle editor for RetailMeNot. If they?re sharing computers or mobile devices, members of a household can find out a lot about one another?s browsing and buying patterns, she said.
?You can go to a store and shop all you want,? she said. But ?when you?re online, because of technology, they can very quickly figure out where you?ve been and what you?ve purchased. You have to be a little more crafty. As online shopping does grow and become a part of the way we like to shop, shoppers need to be more aware of covering their technological trail, so people don?t find out.?
Retailers such as Best Buy and Amazon are starting to offer ways for shoppers to cover their tracks.
At Best Buy, customers can use the buy-online-and-pick-up-in-store option to keep gifts such as big-screen TVs and tablets a secret. The option has become so popular that this year the retailer extended hours chainwide, allowing consumers to buy online until 4 p.m. Christmas Eve and pick up in stores until 6 p.m.
?We?re seeing a huge increase in the purchase online and in-store pickup, so much so we had to put extra manpower on it,? said Brad Prevatt, general manager of a Best Buy in the Baltimore area.
The store has dedicated five or six employees solely to in-store pickups, either gathering ordered items from the shelves or helping customers check out. As much as 40 percent of the company?s online revenue comes from customers choosing in-store pickup.
?We?ll get them in and out of the store as quickly as possible, usually within 10 minutes,? Prevatt said. ?You don?t have to worry if it?s going to get delivered before Christmas.?
Prevatt said he?s seen customers going to extra lengths to disguise gifts.
?We get wives buying things for their husbands and putting it in their kid?s name,? he said.