At any given time, if you were to log into my Amazon account, you would see items sitting in the shopping cart. At present, there is only one item: the “Supersmile Professional Teeth Whitening System” for a cost of $36.10. Will I buy this item? No. This may lead you to wonder why it is in my shopping cart to begin with, and that is the topic of this post — the stupid shit I put in my Amazon shopping cart.
Kidding! Getting a look at the items I consider buying is only a bonus.
We’re going to talk about a strategy I’ve developed to work on controlling my impulse to spend money on Amazon.
First let’s get one thing out of the way. The only perfect way to prevent my impulse to spend money on Amazon is to just never use Amazon. That is completely true, but as with my continuing use of credit cards, I tend to see avoiding those things altogether as throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Amazon is a useful retail outlet, and credit cards are useful tools. Amazon and credit cards aren’t the problems, it is my behavior that is the problem. I’m just not yet ready to declare defeat and cut things out of my life completely because I struggle to create strategies for controlling myself.
This leads me to, you guessed it, a strategy I created to control myself. And here it is: slowing down. Okay, maybe I didn’t create that strategy, but by trial and error I happened upon it on my own. Yay, me. Reinventing the wheel since 1971.
Reining in a runaway horse
Being impulsive, about spending or any other relatively normal thing that can become a problem when left unchecked, is all about speed. It’s like opening a barn door and inadvertently letting out the horse, which promptly bolts. And before you know it, the horse is three miles down the road with a few friends, a bottle of wine and your credit cards, making international calls and ordering designer brand hoof polish on eBay.
Have you ever clicked to watch a video on YouTube, then watched another one that is suggested at the end, and then another one that shows up in the recommended list, and find yourself 45 minutes later learning about Viking cooking techniques? No? Just me?
Anyway, the random journeys that YouTube can lead us on is a result of the rabbit trail of recommendations, and that is how I experience impulsiveness. “Look! A squirrel! I LOVE SQUIRRELS. Squirrels are awesome and they collect nuts. Ooooh, nuts. Cashews are great. Peanuts too. Especially on pad thai. Mmm. Thai food. Chicken satay sounds amazing. I wonder how I could make my own? There are about a million recipes. Oh, but look, here’s a neat recipe for mirror glaze cupcakes. I bet I could do that. Oh, it needs special ingredients, so I should get those. What else do I need from the grocery store? Batteries. I need batteries for the new LED flickering candles I got last week. And wall anchors for the bookshelves. I shouldn’t go to a grocery store for those though, so what else might I need from the hardware store so I don’t have to make two trips? They have a garden section, right? FLAMINGOS! Junior would think it’s funny and ironic to have flamingos outside the door. Should I really go to the hardware store for those? Nah. I could probably get them for less on Amazon…”
DANGER! DANGER! *submarine dive alarm*
Let’s look at some ways I have managed to avoid complete catastrophe when I find myself sinking into a spendy bender at Amazon. I wish I was successful more often, but I am gaining some traction. Luckily, Amazon does have some tools that can help reduce impulse spending. I am reasonably certain they weren’t intended them for that purpose, because let’s face it, the more impulsive we are, the better off they are. But hey, call me subversive. I’m going to fit their own tools to my own devious purpose.
Here we go!
1. Turn off “1-Click Checkout”
So there I am, at Amazon, looking for flamingo lawn ornaments. I find some that look okay, not too expensive. My first line of defense against spending at that very instant is not having Amazon’s 1-Click ordering enabled. “1-click Checkout” is a feature that allows you to set up your payment and shipping information in advance so that when you see an item, all you have to do is click on a button to IMMEDIATELY order the item. It’s like you have pre-approved it and there are no more steps between finding the item and ordering it.
How will you know if 1-Click is enabled? Not all items are eligible for 1-click Checkout, but those that are will show a special “Buy now with 1-click” button next to the “Add to Cart” button. I have re-enabled it on my account to show you what it looks like:
For those of us who do not want to let impulse shopping get the best of us, we will TURN OFF 1-Click Checkout. Here are the steps to do that:
- In a browser, click on your name in the Dashboard near the top of the page (where it says “Hello (your name) / Accounts and Lists”
- From the dropdown, select “Your Account”
- In the “More ways to pay” box, click “1-Click settings”
- On the “Your 1-Click Preferences” page, you have these options:
- A slider to enable/disable 1-Click for the current browser
- Manage 1-Click for your devices
- Disable 1-Click everywhere (CHOOSE THIS ONE)
- When you click the link to disable 1-Click everywhere, you are rewarded with a big green confirmation message at the top that says “1-Click purchasing disabled”
YAY! You did it!
#2. The shopping cart
Okay. So now that I have found some appropriately tacky flamingos, and I can’t order them immediately using 1-Click Checkout because I have disabled it, I have two choices: a “Buy Now” button or an “Add to Cart” button.
“Buy Now” takes you right to the Checkout page.
“Add to Cart” puts the item in your shopping cart list, and then shows you a “Proceed to checkout” button.
I put my flamingos in my shopping cart. And then, here is the tricky part: I DO NOTHING.
This might not seem intuitive, because if you put something in your cart you intend to buy it. And that’s true! At the moment I put it in my cart I do intend to buy it, but now that it is in my cart, I know it isn’t going anywhere and I can give myself just a minute to decide whether to hit the “Proceed to checkout” button. It’s not much, but it is at least one more speed bump between me and financial ruin.
This is not an urgent purchase. It will not hurt me to come back to it later. And in case you think this is a wise and mature way to approach it, let me tell you that it began completely by accident. I started leaving things in my shopping cart just in case there was anything else I needed to order, so I could combine shipping. Eventually I found that when I came back to my Amazon cart I realized that I didn’t need those things anyway, and I took them out.
#3: “Save for later”
Sometimes, when I come back to my cart full of goodies I’m a bit undecided about whether I should or shouldn’t pull the trigger on the item. Maybe I’m not quite ready to commit to purchasing, and not quite ready to commit to pulling them out of my cart altogether. Luckily, Amazon has provided me with a tool for just that case! It’s called “Save for later.”
When you are looking at your Amazon shopping cart, beneath each item there are two links: one to delete it and one to save the item for later. If you save for later, it will stick the item in a list immediately below your shopping cart items so you can conveniently add them back into your cart at a later date.
At this moment, these are the items in my Save for later list:
- Pink flamingo standing lawn art, $38 *
- Small pink flamingo lawn ornaments, $9 *
- Museum gel, $11
- Queen mattress cover, $50
- Twin mattress cover, $40
- ChomChom roller pet hair remover, $25 **
- Gustav Klimt tan metallic fabric by the yard, $12
- Distressed cream area rug carpet, $120 *
- Bohemian Chic distressed rug, $147 *
- Oriental area rug, $130 *
- 1080P HDMI to VGA adapter, $9
- USB-C to VGA adapter, $13
- Microfiber duvet cover set, $23
* I was only going to buy one. I stuck them all in my cart so I could compare them and decide, and then ended up moving all of them to the save for later list.
** Please note that I do not yet own a pet.
Am I going to buy ANY of these items? Now that I have the distance between myself and the original impulse, no. I don’t need them.
I’ve noticed that items don’t stick around in my “Saved for later” list forever. There have been times when I’ve gone back to look for something and it has been removed. My list today is completely different than my list six months ago. I haven’t been able to figure out the rules—it might be length of time or number of items. Either way, it’s probably for the best.
After giving all of this some thought, I’ve come to believe that the “Save for later” feature is a way to acknowledge the impulse instead of pretending it isn’t there. When I take the item out of my cart and save it for later, I’m stalling for even more time. I haven’t yet fallen out of love with (fill in the blank item) and can’t yet commit to not buying it. I can honestly say, though, that I don’t remember every putting anything from my “Saved for later” list back into my shopping cart.
#4: Wish list
This is perhaps the most obvious method of slowing down a purchase. When you put something in your wish list, you aren’t committing to buying it at all. It’s a way to acknowledge your desire for a thing, but it isn’t such a strong impulse that you consider purchase imminent. That is why I’ve added it to the end. When you have an impulse—because humans actually do have impulses, and Amazon wouldn’t be nearly as successful as it is if a lot of people weren’t acting on their impulses—the problem is what to do with that impulse.
Here are the possibilities I see for what to do with a shopping impulse that could result in an Amazon purchase, from least to most dangerous. It’s a little like a reverse fail-over algorithm when I think about it.
- Have an impulse, and do nothing
- Have an impulse, go check Amazon, and then do nothing
- Have an impulse, go check Amazon, and put it in your wish list
- Have an impulse, go check Amazon, and put it in your shopping cart
- Have an impulse, go check Amazon, see the item in your shopping cart, and save it for later
- Have an impulse, go check Amazon, see the item in your shopping cart, and go through with the purchase
- Have an impulse, go check Amazon, click “Buy Now” and go through with the purchase
- Have an impulse, go check Amazon, click “Buy Now with 1-Click” and cry
It’s all about adding as many speed bumps as possible between you and the point of purchase.
Bonus: Cancel Prime membership
Pain! Agony! Wailing and gnashing of teeth! I haven’t been able to give up my Prime membership yet, but it is worth mentioning. Prime is Amazon’s biggest strategy for increasing sales. It started out as feature to reduce the cost of shipping, and they discovered that once someone had paid the money to subscribe to Prime, they shopped more to justify the cost of the membership.
Now, of course, you get all sorts of things with your Prime membership, including audio and video content. Prime and Netflix are my video outlets of choice so I can avoid cable television. If I was a bit more badass I would cancel Prime so I would need to think EXTRA hard about whether to order an item from Amazon, because I would need to (gasp) pay for shipping
So there you have it, a few Amazon tools to reduce impulse spending. Slowing down is the name of the game!
I would love to hear your strategies for slowing down the impulse to purchase. What works for you?