All retailers gather data about consumers and the patterns that come with them each time a shopper checks out at a register. This information helps show consumers relevant ads and collects data for any research Target may need to know about their consumers. Target assigns a guest ID number to every customer, tied to their credit card, name, or email address, which stores every product they’ve ever purchased and any demographics that Target has collected from primary research or other sources. Based on these purchases, it’s easy to predict what you’ll need next. Maybe you buy toilet paper every two weeks, or you buy milk every five days. However, sometimes changes in life happen and that means changes in purchases. Target has been able to nail down these purchases so exactly that the store can tell if you’re pregnant before your friends and family know.
Andrew Pole, a statistician for Target, discussed several patterns noted when a woman is pregnant. Women buy larger quantities of unscented lotion at the beginning of their second tri. Other purchase measurements, including soap, cotton balls, and vitamin supplements, helped to predict that a pregnancy was in sight. Because of these purchase trackings, Pole was able to develop a system of “pregnancy prediction” that even allowed the analysts to predict when the woman’s due date was. As a hypothetical example, the NYTimes piece used this: “. Take a fictional Target shopper named Jenny Ward, who is 23, lives in Atlanta and in March bought cocoa-butter lotion, a purse large enough to double as a diaper bag, zinc and magnesium supplements and a bright blue rug. There’s, say, an 87 percent chance that she’s pregnant and that her delivery date is sometime in late August.”
Based on this data, Target is able to start sending coupons for baby items to these customers, and based on the colors the mom-to-be buys, they can even gender specify or gender neutralize them. This information is so creepily accurate that a man went into a Target and was upset that his high school aged daughter was receiving coupons for baby clothes and cribs. A few days later, the manager called to apologize and the man told him his daughter actually was pregnant and he was unaware. I think this is amazing and so scary at the same time.
Because of that incident, Target started sending personalized booklets to these people instead. So it wouldn’t be a completely baby-themed book, but would mix some random ads in with the information. Target found out that as long as the woman doesn’t think she has been spied on, she will use the coupons.
Personally, I think it’s really incredible that so much data can be pulled from simply collecting information. It’s also really scary and seemingly dangerous. People are often scared of the depth of information they put on the internet, but what happens when someone hacks into the data of what you purchase? When you visit the store? This data essentially defines who you are. After all, we are what we purchase. Scary isn’t it? According to the Forbes article, some consumers are purchasing with cash because of the extremities that data mining has gone to anymore. Is it worth it?
Duhigg, C. (2012, February 16). How Companies Learn Your Secrets. New York Times [New York City]. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/shopping-habits.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&hp&
Hill, K. (2016, February 16). How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/02/16/how-target-figured-out-a-teen-girl-was-pregnant-before-her-father-did/?utm_campaign=forbestwittersf&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social