If we’re being honest, most of us have at some point used a wish list function on an online shopping site. Most likely it was Amazon.com, the very site that created and innovated this technology. Perhaps we were bookmarking an item that we wanted later. Perhaps the holidays were coming up and you wanted to gently nudge people in the direction of items that you actually wanted or needed. Or, maybe, honestly you just wished for an item that you couldn’t afford at the moment and wanted to mark it to come back to later (and there’s no shame in that). At its core, the wish list function on a site seems like it’s simply a convenient way to keep track of items or share them with other people. And to a degree that’s certainly true. But on a different level, wish list technology is one of the bigger tools enabling addictive consumerism.

The First Question to Ask Yourself: Why Did Companies Develop Wish List Technology?

If what you’re imagining is that executives and product developers at companies that provide an online wish list function sat in a room and said, “What can we create on the site that will really improve our customers’ experience and give them something that they need,” well you are an optimist. And they certainly didn’t say, “What project can we tackle just because we love product development and coding?” There certainly may have been elements of those two thoughts that were included in the conversation. And of course any feature that improves customer experience and satisfaction will ultimately work to the ecommerce site’s benefit. But the real conversation that likely happened as this technology was being developed would have sounded like this: “What are projects we can develop and do that will ultimately increase a customer’s lifetime value and retention rate?”

If you don’t speak marketing-speak, the translation there is “What can we do that will extract more money per customer and cause them to buy more things?” And the only reason to ask that question is to leverage and encourage addictive consumerism.

How Does the Online Wish List Enable Addictive Consumerism?

Forgive us if you feel like we’re stating the obvious here! We know that some of you have already figured this out. But the purpose of the Postconsumers website is to explore and share information, helping you find the satisfaction of enough. So let’s take some time to discuss how the online wish list function enables addictive consumerism.

You’re likely saying, “How is the online wish list any different from a wish list that I write down or even one that I keep in my head?” The answer is two-fold. Wish lists that you write down or keep in your head are initiated by you and require effort by you. Adding an item to an online wish list doesn’t require the same level of effort, and therefore doesn’t require the same level of contemplation and thought, as writing or remembering does. It only requires a single click. Once you have made that click, the item is on your wish list every time you come to the site. You’ll always see it, and the chances that you’ll purchase it increase exponentially.

But ease of marking the product is only the first part. The second part is the ease of purchasing the product. Once you’ve added an item to an online wish list, it typically only takes you one click to purchase it.  So, essentially, a feature that seemed like a convenience feature to you ended up being a tool by which you were “encouraged” to buy more (we might use the term manipulated, but that seems so harsh).

It’s Also About Data. Now They Know How to Market to You.

On most larger ecommerce sites, everything that you purchase is being tracked and used to determine what advertisements, email marketing promotions and other products you should see in order to increase the number of times that you purchase and the amount that you spend. But what’s better to market to you than a product that you, yourself, have already told the website that you want? As soon as you put an item on your online wish list, you’ve essentially told the website what they should or shouldn’t present to you in ads, related products, social media and email. And if you already wanted the product to begin with, imagine how much you’ll want it when you see it repeatedly and frequently with an added discount applied.

You Want to Use an Online Wish List, But Want to Control Your Consumer Exposure. How Do You Do It?

There are actually a few tricks that you can use to still use online wish list functionality while also reducing the amount of marketing exposure and purchase manipulation you’ll be exposed to as a result. The first is to mark the products online somewhere other than the website’s own wish list functionality. Create a folder in your bookmarks bar, for example. Or just copy and paste the link into a spreadsheet or document. Neither of those two functions will allow the ecommerce site to see what you are flagging for future use, but you still have a list you can easily refer to.

The second tip is to make sure that you unsubscribe from any marketing emails from the website, particularly if you do decide to use their own wish list functions. Ecommerce sites still rely heavily on getting into your inbox to convince or convert you to purchasing. This is a good tip even if you’re not using the website’s online wish list function.

Online wish lists can be convenient, and they can even help to reduce the purchase of unwanted items or extra “stuff” when they’re used to guide people who may be buying gifts for you. But their purpose from inception was to increase how much you buy and how much money you spend. Knowledge is power, though, and now that you understand the inner workings of an online wish list you can make better informed decisions about how and when you use one.

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