Emily Lee won’t have to endure another Christmas of watching her kids open up gifts and fearing that she might have forgotten something on their wish lists.
That’s because the Ridgefield High School graduate has created an app, bWISHd, that creates lists of gifts for people and reminds users when to shop for them.
“You can enter in birthdays, holidays, whatever you want,” said Lee, a New Milford resident and mother of three. “It syncs up with your calendar and you control when it reminds you — it could be two weeks before, one before or even a day or two before for those last-second shoppers. You can also set no reminder.”
Lee was inspired to create bWISHd by her children — Monica, 9; Evelyn, 7; and JJ, 3.
“I’m not going to buy gifts for them in the store while they’re shopping with me,” she said. “If I buy it for them then, it becomes a ‘now’ gift and not a birthday gift...
“There were too many times when they would ask for something not near their birthdays, or not near Christmas, and I would forget it,” she added.
She began thinking about the app around this time last year, and met with a developer who helped her design it and get it approved on the Apple store.
“When you get that idea of a gift or your kids pick out something they really, really want, you can use the app to scan the bar code and then it goes into your phone,” Lee explained. “It can be done at the store or at home if you’re shopping online.”
The app also functions without scanning bar codes — all users need to enter is a keyword into their list and the app generates search terms.
“It works with a string of texts or keywords and you can begin clicking on those words once they’re entered and searching for gifts,” Lee said.
Right now the app’s search function is paired with Walmart.com but Lee hopes to pair it with other retailers soon.
“You don’t have to shop at one store,” she said. “The real goal is to keep track of the list for each person you’re shopping for. You can take it anywhere to shop — even online where it’s very handy, too.”
bWISHd is Lee’s first app.
A professional photographer, she said she drew out how the app would look on paper before contacting any developers.
“I operate in the visual sphere, I think in pictures,” she said. “It really was something that started from scratch a year ago ...
“I kept having this idea and was looking for something like it and found there was nothing like it out there.”
Lee, who graduated from RHS in 2001 before going to Connecticut College, said she was always into art and creative learning growing up.
Through her photography business, she has taken pictures of weddings and families. She’s also helped small business owners with social media and marketing.
“The common thread between the app and my business is creativity and visualization,” she said.
“bWISHd is pretty similar from what I originally imagined it would look like,” she added. “My goal was for it to be simple — something accessible for all, from kids to parents to grandparents. Nothing too complicated.”
While developing the app, Lee discovered there was a key function missing in her original sketches.
“I began thinking about things I disliked about apps, and that’s when I decided I had to make this free of ads,” she said. “The information is locally stored, and it’s not shared anywhere. Your search terms won’t come up as targeted ads on Facebook. It’s very private, there’s no ads and that’s a very intentional decision.”
With privacy concerns at the forefront of bWISHd’s creation, Lee decided the app would go up on the Apple store at a small cost — $0.99.
“Apps that are free are never really free when you think about it,” she said. “When you download a free app, there’s always a string of pop up ads that insist you download the paid version. It was very important to me not to misguide our customers. It comes at a small cost because there’s no ads and it’s private.”
Despite working on the app throughout last year and launching it in December, Christmas 2018 didn’t come without any blemishes.
“My middle daughter Evelyn and I were shopping in Target in September and she really wanted this Moana costume,” Lee recalled. “I told her ‘maybe Santa will get it for you for Christmas.’ Of course, shopping time rolled around in November and December and I totally blanked. She didn’t let me live that one down.”
The missed-gift reminder took on a life of its own in the new year when Lee’s daughter created her own homemade Moana outfit.
“She threw a blanket around her and used one of her shirts as a sash,” Lee said. “She dressed like that every day after school in January.”
The previous Christmas, Evelyn was also the victim of a forgotten gift request.
“The year before that it was a model taxi,” Lee said. “After opening all her gifts, she immediately asked, ‘what about my taxi?’ She has a very strong memory.”
It’s hard to go perfect with gift giving during the holiday season, and Lee’s parents were no exception.
“For me, it was a toy cash register,” said Lee, recalling the gift that her parents forgot to get her when she was growing up in Ridgefield.
“I saw it in a store and wanted it so badly.”
“... If only bWISHd were around back then.”
Patience is a virtue
Lee, who ran track at RHS before coming down from Lyme disease, said she applies the same lessons her parents taught her when getting gifts for her kids.
“My father was a big proponent of delayed gratification, and that’s something I like to use for my kids,” she said. “I want them to be patient and wait until it’s time for a gift.”
Stuffed animals or other miscellaneous items at the counter near the store’s register don’t make it easy.
“Those impulse, in-the-moment buys never bring satisfaction,” Lee said. “They’re used for a week and then become clutter in your home. I’d much rather have my kids wait and be grateful. Make their birthday and holiday special ...
“My kids are learning to recognize impulse decisions versus waiting for something,” she added. “And I think they’re beginning to see that I’m recognizing their wants and taking notes ... My youngest loves scanning with the app and he’s beginning to put items back and know that I’m not going to buy it for him in the moment but I will come back for it. It cuts down a lot of huffing in the store.”
Of course, patience helps weed through what kids really want and something that might just catch their eye in a fleeting moment.
“The things they see in the store — they don’t always want it,” Lee said.
“We’ve created this culture of impulse shopping, and retailers know it — that’s why there’s that gauntlet of items at the register. With this app, I can take down everything my kids think they want in any given store and decide what’s a real gift — something that’s special to them — and what’s something that’s just cute and in the moment.”