Target's creepy data-mining program predicts your future shopping changes, disguises this fact from you

In the New York Times, Charles Duhigg takes a creepy look at how Target mines its customer data to predict major life-changes, like pregnancy, so that they can send coupons that guide customers into thinking of Target as the go-to place for all their prenatal and child-rearing needs. The researcher quoted (who was later silenced by his employer) describes the measures the company takes to keep the wily pregosaurs from figuring out that they're being tracked and categorized, tricking them into thinking that the flood of prenatal coupons in the post were just a coincidence. It's grounded in some neuroscience research and the theory is that if you can be guided or coerced into forming automatic "shopping habits" that involve Target, you'll buy things there literally without thinking about it.

One Target employee I spoke to provided a hypothetical example. 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. What’s more, because of the data attached to her Guest ID number, Target knows how to trigger Jenny’s habits. They know that if she receives a coupon via e-mail, it will most likely cue her to buy online. They know that if she receives an ad in the mail on Friday, she frequently uses it on a weekend trip to the store. And they know that if they reward her with a printed receipt that entitles her to a free cup of Starbucks coffee, she’ll use it when she comes back again.

In the past, that knowledge had limited value. After all, Jenny purchased only cleaning supplies at Target, and there were only so many psychological buttons the company could push. But now that she is pregnant, everything is up for grabs. In addition to triggering Jenny’s habits to buy more cleaning products, they can also start including offers for an array of products, some more obvious than others, that a woman at her stage of pregnancy might need.

Pole applied his program to every regular female shopper in Target’s national database and soon had a list of tens of thousands of women who were most likely pregnant. If they could entice those women or their husbands to visit Target and buy baby-related products, the company’s cue-routine-reward calculators could kick in and start pushing them to buy groceries, bathing suits, toys and clothing, as well. When Pole shared his list with the marketers, he said, they were ecstatic. Soon, Pole was getting invited to meetings above his paygrade. Eventually his paygrade went up.

At which point someone asked an important question: How are women going to react when they figure out how much Target knows?

“If we send someone a catalog and say, ‘Congratulations on your first child!’ and they’ve never told us they’re pregnant, that’s going to make some people uncomfortable,” Pole told me. “We are very conservative about compliance with all privacy laws. But even if you’re following the law, you can do things where people get queasy.”

How Companies Learn Your Secrets (via JWZ)


    1. There is; It’s called lying. 

      I admit I have about 4 Safeway cards. I use them all and other’s. If I forgot one, I just recall friend’s phone numbers. One of them usually is on file, and then I get the loyalty discount and obfuscate their database. If only a little.

    2. I found many of those store that let you key in your phone number accepts xxx-555-1212.   I assume those numbers were in the database for testing.

      (xxx being the local area code.)

      1. 800-555-1212 is the old long distance directory assistance number. There used to be television commercials with a jingle.

  1. We get junk mail around the time of our kids’ birthdays targeted to us because of the birthday. Every time, I think about how depressing it would be if something terrible had happened and we had a miscarriage or crib death. How awful would it be to be reminded of your dead child’s birthday with a Chuck E Cheese coupons every year? Ugh…

    1.  Yeah, it’s pretty depressing.  I checked the mail for months after we lost our baby, so that I could throw out the targeted junk mail before my wife saw it.  We eventually used some service that cancels everything baby related for you.  I wish I still had the contact info to post here.

  2. People tend to dislike direct mail, adverts on TV, fliers under their windscreen wipers, etc. because it is obviously so undirected.  So, when the advertising is directed – based on your habits, age, marital status, etc. – it’s disliked because how dare those companies use the data you’ve been giving them to advertise stuff you might actually be interested in.

    Ideally, yes, maybe we all should just research our future purchases ourselves with no outside input especially from a manufacturer or reseller …but that isn’t going to happen.  It seems like what Cory and many others in that particular circle want is either no adverts whatsoever …or highly focused adverts that are based on absolutely no real/personal data.

    I would just be happy if all of the billboards/signs marring the landscape were removed and maybe if giant signs/adverts on the sides of buildings, especially in historic areas, were removed.  Oh and those giant digital signs that flash distracting stuff at the side of the road, those can definitely be banned straight away.

    1. I really like tailored ads and coupons (pity the one or two big names I semi regularly shop at aren’t any good at tailoring, but whatever). People just don’t realise that electronic loyalty cards have nothing to do with loyalty and are all about data mining so are getting pretty freaked out by the revelation.

      The other issue is that these companies aren’t just using loyalty cards that you have signed up for, without reading the small print, but are setting up little data files for you linked to your credit card. That’s a little less acceptable, a little more creepy.

      It’d be nice if everyone was informed on exactly how companies get this information, how they use it and, most importantly, why they use it. If you know how and why marketing strategies work you’re less likely to fall for them and more likely to make a more informed and more independent shopping choice. Not totally devoid of outside influence, obviously; we don’t live in a void.

      With you on the road side ads. Most of them are just boring car and banking ads anyway >_>

    2. I think people maybe forget that other people don’t have any particular interest in seeing their adverts. Compare it to listening to about someone else talk about their baby: it’s not your baby; you couldn’t care less. Companies are not doing you a favour by sending you ads tailored for your interests. 

      People dislike untargeted advertising but that doesn’t mean that giving them targeted advertising is going to do anything more for them.

      The fundamental issue is whether you think of advertising as a great thing that sends you interesting leaflets in the mail or a way for businesses to get your money.

    3.  Target’s  a really nasty company.   They make Wal-Mart look like the good guys (sic) see:  60 percent of your Canadian workforce is part-time.  It s kinda funny to see someone from target promoting targeted narrowcasting.

  3. Otherwise known as marketing?

    Seriously though, although it is a little creepy; businesses do like to build their sales and promotions around peoples needs, and naturally every shop wants to create as much retention as possible.

    1. To ease the creep factor, the companies could be more transparent. Let me see what data they hold about me. Where did they get the data from? With whom have they shared it? Give me the option of having my data purged from their databases. I’ve heard some talk of a national do-not-track registry. Maybe that’s the answer.

      1.  In the UK at least we have the data protection act, and I’m pretty sure in this case you could simply ask what data they have on you and they’d have to tell you.

        But I agree that transparency is always best – for both parties.

        1. The problem is not what data they have on you (they know the purchases you made from their shop) but how it is being processed. I think you’d have a serious fight on your hands if you asked to see a company’s advertising algorithms under the DPA.

          This is a case of a company looking for customers who are buying pregnancy products, identifying them and then sending them baby coupons 9 or so months later.

          1. Further to this, the issue of processing is a recurring one in data protection law. It’s often said that the choice of categories of sensitive personal data in EU law is a potted history of Europe.

            The worst example I ever heard was the Belgian census. The Belgians used to have a census which asked your religion for the various reasons of it’s information about citizens, it helps provide services and so on. The Germans, on invading Belgium in the Second World War, used the responses to find the names and addresses of Jews. 

            That’s a situation where people have given up information they figured was fairly innocuous and, for want of a better word, “new management” came in and used the information in an horrifically bad way.

          2. The Germans weren’t the only ones misusing Census data in WWII, how do you think the US knew where to go to round up the Japanese Americans they put into their own concentration camps? Oh, I’m sorry, since we did it, they are called Internment Camps, because stealing property and money and imprisoning someone based on their race is better when called something different.

            (wouldn’t let me answer you below, sorry)


          3. @boingboing-41a60377ba920919939d83326ebee5a1:disqus That actually seems even sketchier because it’s not  the clearest example of an evil invading army in modern history doing it to another country’s census data to round up people for the Holocaust. That’s a country going “hey, we already know where these people are.”

    2. The customer often has to pay for a business’s desire to retain them through dishonest pricing mechanisms, especially in financial services.

  4. Its less creeoy than revealing —  anyone with some data and a few intelligent observations can figure out worlds of information about us humans.

    As a species, you are mundanely predictable . . .

      1. As in “you Humans”  . . . A fascinating if self involved species. You are amusing to observe, especially your own sense of self worth and importance.

        No offense implied.

        1. Brad hasn’t been blunt enough, Barry – YOU are a human (unless you’re a dog….), so your use of “you humans” is, well, neither amusing nor offensive, but sort of “creeoy” in its own way

  5. I think people see this kind of thing as creepy because it reveals that people don’t really have as much (if any) free will as they’d like to think. It pulls the curtain a bit too far back on reality.

    1. What does ‘free will’ even mean in this case?

      Person has a baby. Person now needs to buy diapers for said baby.

      So, clever store sends them a coupon for diapers. Person goes and purchases diapers at the store.

      Clever internet commentator goes “Ah Ha! Coupon was sent and purchase immediately followed! Lack of free will alert!”

      But the baby existed before the coupon. The diapers were going to be bought anyways. There is no link between the coupon and the purchase of the diapers, just the purchase location of the diapers. Should our theoretical parent gone out of their way to not use the coupon?

      And when a second coupon for diapers shows up right before the first package runs out, and results in another sale for the store, it does not represent a lack of free will either. Just that the store knows how many diapers were purchased, roughly how fast a baby goes through diapers and can do basic math.

      1. “but the baby existed before the coupon”

        read the article – the point was the coupon issuers had PREDICTED the baby

        at the same time, the extent to which they can predict accurately is quite apart from the extent to which they can effectively employ that knowledge – which was mostly Duhigg’s point

        1. Well, they had predicted that you were pregnant.  But you already knew that (Target doesn’t want to send you pregnancy coupons before you know you need cocoa butter, after all–you wouldn’t buy it).  

  6. If you find it so creepy, why is boingboing profiting from advertisers using these techniques online?  Look at the ads on this site — plenty of retargeting, third party data targeting, inferenced based profiles, you name it. 

        1.  Every piece of malware I have ever picked up has come into my computer through ads on sites I visited on a regular basis. I use Adblock Plus so I don’t have to go though that headache again.

          1. Absolutely. Advertisers have seriously spoiled it for themselves. Getting people to look at your adverts is a privilege and never a right.

            Particularly awful example: shoot the loudly buzzing mosquito in the ridiculously heavy flash banner to be brought to a clearly fraudulent free iPhone scam site.

        2. I find Adblocking nastier than targeted ads.  If you’re not willing to be exposed to advertising in exchange for content, don’t go to the website.

          This reminds me of Jamie Kellner, the chief exec of Turner Broadcasting, who back in 2002 described skipping the ad breaks in TV programmes thus:

          “It’s theft. Your contract with the network when you get the show is you’re going to watch the spots. Otherwise you couldn’t get the show on an ad-supported basis. Any time you skip a commercial or watch the button you’re actually stealing the programming.”

          I’m not sure of the status of the contract I’ve made with the internet, but for me it comes down to a choice between downloading ads to ignore, or not downloading ads to ignore; I don’t see an enormous moral gulf between those positions, to be honest.

        3. If you want ad revenue, don’t accept ads from vendors that don’t provide adequate resources to allow the ads to load quickly. Or ones that use buggy scripts. Or ones that are so content-heavy they eat bandwidth.

          1. Those are pretty much the exact reasons I finally gave in and turned AdBlock back on for BoingBoing.

            I felt bad doing it — I had turned AdBlock off for sites I enjoy — but it sometimes took minutes to load a BoingBoing page, with ad scripts spinning out of control, frequently (well, maybe once a week) causing Chrome to slow way down and finally crap out, throwing up little frowny faces for every BB tab.

            I was going to post a dump of the time states at some point, but AFAIK this site no longer has the “Untitled” post or other places where we can make random comments on the site. (Or, at least, it doesn’t link it in any way that’s helpful for the average reader).

            So, to repeat your words back to you: Boing Boing, If you want ad revenue, don’t accept ads from vendors that don’t provide adequate resources to allow the ads to load quickly. Or ones that use buggy scripts. Or ones that are so content-heavy they eat bandwidth.

      1.  I have/use ABP…sometimes I like for the sites I frequent most to make some money from their time and investment in them…

        There are only a handful of sites I have AdBlock disabled on, but if it means helping out the BB crew then I don’t mind a few extra ads here and there.

  7. I always kind of thought that this sort of thing could lead to Asimov-style psychohistory, which would be pretty cool. If people really are that predictable, we might as well get reliable futurology out of it.

    1. Well, people are predictable in some ways. Pregnant people *are* fairly likely to need baby products within 9 months. I just don’t know how much further you can really stretch that.

  8. On the other hand, this technology (if working correctly) improves the relevance of ad messages that you get.  You see fewer messages for stuff that you don’t need, and you see them less often.  The value proposition is about improved marketing effectiveness overall, which means less mass-marketing and more (and more effective) micro-marketing.

    As for transparency, Amazon shows you why it made certain recommendations and offers you the chance to have them ignore that item (i.e. I bought a book as a gift for someone else, and have no further interest in more books on that subject).

    The technology is not inherently good or evil, that’s up to the company using it.  Like a carpentry set, you can use it to make a nursery or a concentration camp.

  9. Whatever they’re doing, they’re screwing it up somehow. I bought a toy for a birthday party, and now all I get are child-related emails. I bought an ipad last year; I’d love to see more tech stuff in their emails. But no, they assume I have a kid because I bought ONE toy. At least Amazon does this right; you can see why they recommended something to you, and make changes so it better fits your needs. Target assumes they know betterr than you.

    1. Several years ago, while still childless, I bought two jars of baby food to make a syringe feeding mixture to feed to a sick pet ferret. We were immediately inundated with mailings from our grocery store congratulating us on the new addition to the family and providing coupons for diapers, formula, and baby food. My husband and I were joking about it:  what if, when the algorithm saw that we were continuing to shop there, but not buying any more baby items, we ended up with a knock at the door from police or CPS, demanding to know what had happened to the baby?

      1.  It’s not far off, recently there was an article about a couple of kids who made up a fake name and birthday to get free ice cream cone coupons from the birthday club of 31 flavors…the fake kid got a letter from the government reminding him to sign up for selective service…yes, the ice cream place sold their birthday list to the government.

  10. Why is this creepy? It is a retailer trying to use smart technology to provide focussed marketing during a time of global recession.

      1. You aren’t supposed to be excited I guess. But you shouldn’t be surprised and enraged when you notice that they track your purchases after you authorised them to do so.

    1. I should go dig up Harry Harrison’s short story “”Not Me, Not Amos Cabot!”, which is the outraged crusade of a man against a publishing company when it starts sending him “Golden Years” magazine — having determined that he’s reached the point in his life when he’s only supposed to care about reminiscing about the good old days, sharing pictures of grandchildren, and taking naps.
      Twilight-Zone-ly, he only succeeds when they stop sending him that in favor of “End: The Magazine for Those About to Die” (I’m paraphrasing the titles from memory)

  11. Yeah. And exactly the thing that we used to expect when we went to the local store and bought the same thing every time. I suppose being recognised by a computer is a poor substitute for being recognised by a person. Mind you in England it’s rare to find a friendly shop drone.

    1. Target will send you email without your permission, refuse to remove you from their lists, refuse to tell you how you ended up on the lists, and will re-subscribe you (again, without your permission).

       I went several rounds with their customer support trying to get removed and to get answers. It’s clear that they’re  e-pending email addresses, so they’re blatantly spamming, and they know it.

      All they would tell me is that they:   “recently acquired your email address via a trusted third-party.”

      I finally got them to stop spamming me about a month ago. They started up again last week. Their ESP, Epsilon (spit!),  is complicit in the spamming, as they did not respond to abuse reports and are most likely the “trusted third party” facilitating the e-pending and spamming.

        1.  There are millions of corporations in the US alone. “Just hit delete” or “just take two minutes to filter them” does not scale.

          1. I do not get any of this kind of spam, or at least none of it gets through my spam filter. So it’s hard for me to understand what people are complaining about. I’d never heard of Target before this. It is hard to imagine that you are getting email from millions of corporations – I wonder if you are accurately reporting the scale.

            However if billions of people mark a sender as spam sender, then it does scale. 

  12. I’m actually rethinking my stance on this. It might be creepy, but what’s the harm? There are very real benefits (more efficiency leads to more profit and lower prices), but what are the real harms? Do the negatives outweigh the positives? 
    This reminds me a little to the reflex response many copyright holders have to piracy. If I share a movie, there’s a very real chance that the benefits outweigh the harm. I think the same might be true when a store builds a profile of you from the data you have given them (implicitly and explicitly).

      1. If you miscarry you will most likely be getting all kinds of pregnancy stuff in the mail from other sources.   This is really stretching things to try to find a negative.

          1. It’s extremely annoying, but in most cases, your OB-GYN office is the source of the information. Not that they do it without your consent, but practically as soon as the test comes up positive, you’ll be offered “freebies” that come with an opt-out for being added to mailing lists from magazines, formula companies, and baby-oriented retailers. It only gets worse when you get to the maternity ward:  lots of “free” stuff for the new baby that all comes with branded and data-mining strings attached. And being post-partum and sleep-deprived doesn’t allow for much nuanced discernment.

        1. I’ve miscarried twice (mid 2010 & early 2011) and still receive mailings from Target about our new baby, which we do not have. It is a little sting every time.

          But since approx 75% of wanted pregnancies result in a baby or babies, they’re hedging their bets. Unfortunately we were on the bad side of the stats twice.

          I work in marketing and this kind of customer following isn’t new. As others said as a consumer culture we’re highly predictable and so are the outcomes of major life events. That’s why I just toss the ads and move on.

  13. As so many others have said, it does seem a bit silly to take issue with using customer data to provide recommendations – Amazon, Google and everyone else with half a brain does this. I have a pregnant wife, and while it’s completely clear that Amazon knows this, they haven’t said “it looks like you’re pregnant, here’s some stuff you might like”- that might be even more creepy. And I think of it as helping us (yes, helping first-time and somewhat clueless parents) figure out what we need. I’d much rather have this than a slew of distracting and irrelevant junk advertising. Companies exist to sell us stuff, so either get comfortable about having a relationship with them, or get off the grid and hide from them – but don’t complain about intrusive and ubiquitous spamvertising.  

  14. I really do not see the problem here, unless they don’t limit themselves to customers and data beyond that of loyalty cards. 

    The whole point of these cards is to gather data and everybody knows it.  Or rather: Everybody *could* know this unless one is wilfully ignorant.

  15. So tired of everything being framed like it’s some evil plot.  Seems like they providing a pretty good service here.  

  16. *looks at the ad at the bottom of this page* It’s, a BluRay disc I searched for and a Kindle skin I was looking at. Sorry Play, you’re showing me things I searched for and did not buy. Try again.

    I understand how companies get their data (need to delete my cookies and cache again, clearly). I know how loyalty cards work. I know how a lot of marketing strategies work (including things like “facing forward”; people are more likely to buy more items in a shop that looks well stocked than in a shop with a few half empty shelves. It works.) so this stuff doesn’t really bother me… when it’s done right. Badly done targeted ads are more annoying than completely un-targeted.

    The thing that annoys me is storing buying data in a file connected to your credit card. I never signed up for that and I have NO way of getting those data (and those of everything connected to that card including name and address if they can buy it from somewhere) deleted. Now I try to use my card offline as little as possible, but with more and more of my buying non-food items being net based… well, we’ll see how that pans out.

    1.  Most merchant credit card agreements explicitly prohibit the retailer using the credit card or debit card # as the basis of information aggregation, on the grounds that the # is the intellectual property of the card issuer.

      Don’t mistake this as concern by the credit card companies for your privacy…. the card vendors sell anonymous market research data back to the retailers, about how that retailer’s own customers behave.

      This is part of why retailers like house-branded cards: they have full rights to the purchase history associated with those cards.

      1. I rather have the bank sell anonymous data in arrogate than a store tracking people individually via their credit card with no opt out or transparency.

        A loyalty card you can choose to not use and know what it is all about.

  17. Two weeks ago I googled a bench for my son’s soccer team to use. Right now the ad at the top of the page on this Boing Boing story is an Amazon ad for a 6-seat soccer bench. Just curious, Cory, how much money you will make if I click on that ad? My bet is that you wouldn’t make money if I just bought that item, but that you’ll make money on *any* Amazon purchase I made in the next 24 hours because of the referrer click, right?

    Data mining doesn’t bother me, I’d rather get ads for things I’m going to use than things I’m not interested in.

    And I just noticed the ad at the bottom, it says “Free White Paper – Competitive Strategy in The Age of the Customer” from Forrester Research. The irony is bleeding all over Boing Boing today.

    1. That is really not a comparable situation, so the criticism is misplaced at a minimum.

      I have not signed up for any Boing Boing loyalty card, the level of personal information passed via referral links is miniscule in comparison.

      And no one should be surprised by seeing ads referencing topics (read keywords) associated with content. Don’t see any irony because it isn’t there.

      A critique of how someone makes money is not a condemnation of the actual making of money.

  18. I thought I would get blasted by saying this seemed like a service you should expect from the merchants one visits, but seems to be a consensus view.

    It is quaint and a bit naive to expect a certain level of respect from a retailer regarding how they handle what they know about you. And regarding more intimate details, respect is warranted especially when speculation (sorry, meant customer intelligence) is used as the basis for communications.

    The creepy part is when that information is sold and even if not, when the data is left insecure.

    1. There’s an element of creepy from the industrial scale, heartless nature of it. We know there’s a good way for shops to predict your future behaviour but this is a far cry from the kindly village shopkeeper who notices you’re pregnant and perhaps talks to you about being pregnant, asks when you’re due and so on, so that when he says “we can do a good deal of diapers if you’d like” it seems quite nice and mutually beneficial.

      This is just a computer in a back room somewhere collating all the till receipts from all the tills looking for an angle.

      1. The “industrial scale and heartless nature of it” is actually why it doesn’t concern me too much from a privacy standpoint.

  19. I’m glad that they probably know that I haven’t set foot in their store since they started financing homophobic institutions and politicians. Loyalty cuts both ways.

  20. Target sends me coupon books about every two months. I haven’t noticed anything specific about the coupons, but what I like to do is take them to Target and hide them behind  the items.  That way, someone goes to get something and “Hey! Coupon!”. I do wonder how that affects my database profile….

  21. I’m still in school but I’m learning the skills that companies like Target desire, data mining and machine learning. There are a lot of other uses for these algorithms, by the way, but the demand for these skills in marketing is huge. In this case this is probably transaction mining. The canonical example is the realization that if someone buys diapers and milk they will, with high probability, buy beer. In any case one of my courses is centered around industry, a different speaker from a different company comes in every week and tells us about their needs. Let me tell you, the start-ups are not as worried, but all the large corporations are very worried about PR backlashes from revealing too much about where they are mining, even to us students. At the same time they are trying every source of data they can; for example running voice-to-text algos on customer service calls and mining that. It may be a little heartening to know they in most cases there is an awful lot of noise in the data, and therefore a lot of personal information is still largely unknown. Predicting that a pregnancy has begun and inferring that it’ll take 9 months is not as hard of a guess to make. It remains to be seen how accurate the marketing efforts will ever really become. However if they do become accurate, noise generating communities may help people desiring more privacy.

    1. I’ll shop at Target ‘literally without thinking about it’ when I can park there ‘literally without thinking about it.’

      That’s exactly what seems to be happening at the Target nearest me.

  22. The future: cheap, self-driving Google cars. Of course, you would have to not mind them tracking your every move and then monetizing the data forever. And the monitor in the car constantly advertises at you about what’s nearby. You can’t turn it off. The in-car camera notices that your jacket is a bit worn at the cuffs and, wouldn’t you know it, you somehow wind up right in front of Eddie Bauer. Might as well go in.

  23. I have no children. The only baby-related product I buy is pureed chicken baby food, which I buy frequently and use to feed one of my cats her medicine. At the grocery store where I buy this baby food, the cash register often prints up coupons for formula and diapers for me when I check out.

    You’d think their system would catch on after a while and figure out that I do not have a purely-carnivorous baby that runs around sans-diaper and is never bathed or medicated. But no, their system is not that smart.

    1.  Isn’t that the fun of it though?  :)  It also shows how immature target marketing and data mining really is.  If they really knew who you were, they’d figure it out and print out coupons for cat food and cat hair remover (those rollie things that you roll over your cloths).

  24. I don’t remember where I saw it, but someone suggested using the local area code and 867-5309 as a loyalty card number figuring that SOMEONE must have signed up with it…useful if you are visiting another city and don’t want to sign up for the card.

  25. Its called targeting marketing. It beats flooding the media with mostly worthless ads. Instead, as a concerned friend would, the customer receives timely and relevant recommendations for purchase.

  26. Its called targeting marketing. Sound like an effective way to get timely and relevant offers of products to potential customers. Sure is more socially acceptable than flooding the media with worthless ads.

  27. I guess I’m confused by the outrage of someone tracking what you like/where you are in life and marketing to that.  Hasn’t it been going on for centuries with shop owners who have known a little more about you and offered things that fit your lifestyle?  We used to like these folks because they cared.  Maybe because it’s faceless that we don’t get it’s really the same.  As long as they are staying within the law then they are within their right I guess.  I think we should be asking what type of guidelines and frameworks we need data to be shared.  That’s  a legal issue and one that I’m sure would take many beers to discuss.

    Oh, and we do agree to give them enough of our personal data allow them to know who we really are.  You know if you really don’t want them to know you are “Alfred Jones” born 1/15/65, then tell them you are “Albert Smith” born 6/5/75.  Sure, they can expend a bunch of energy to figure that you’re really Albert, but most companies aren’t there yet and it does cost them a bit more to do it.

    1. I guess I’m confused by the outrage of someone tracking what you like/where you are in life and marketing to that.

      And when you end up doing most of your shopping online, what makes you think that they won’t start upping the prices for heavy users of certain products and categories?

      1. That’s the exact opposite of the way things would work.  If you buy a lot of things you are much more likely to look around for a lower price.

        This whole article is about using info to send people discounts for things just when they’ll need them (so they then buy other stuff too.)

        1. You don’t think that an entire industry could run a bait and switch?  Once they’ve got most people hooked on buying through their ads, they can reasonably assume that only a small percentage will do the research to discover that they’re being fed higher prices.

          1. This is the ultimate wet dream of retail.  Selling to everyone at the same price is wasteful, since many people would pay more, and some people would by at a lower but still profitable price.  Maybe they’ll start handing out VR goggles instead of putting price stickers on things.

  28. One solution to this problem is to phase out the United States Postal Service Retailer Coupon Delivery Subsidy Service.

    1. But then sweet little old ladies couldn’t send me wonderful notes in Palmer hand and the world would be a lesser place.

  29. Transparency is difficult when so much data is based on inferences and correlations.  You buy Ragu?  Then you probably prefer dogs over cats.  Prefer Prego?  Cat lover.  At least, that was true in the 80s, not sure about now.  It is hard to even know why such strong correlations exist in the first place, but the data says there is correlation, so you use it.  Being transparent about it will reveal a big shoulder shrug: “We dunno why.”  Another point, this kind of marketing inference has been going on for decades.  What’s new is how much more data we are willingly sharing about ourselves.  

    In the early 90s, I spent a week at the local Chamber of Commerce, going through the results of marketing research data, and it was an eye opening experience. Your extended zipcode (zip+4) gives strong correlations for income level, number and type of cars owned, education level and type of profession.  That shouldn’t be too surprising, though, just look at your neighbors; but it is weird to see it all broken down and cataloged.  

  30. C’mon people… This is pretty standard marketing practice. Not that I agree with such behaviour, but this is the reason Bill Hicks would rail on marketing: It is evil to sell shit to people that they don’t need, but that is the entire reason marketing exists.

    Bill Hicks on Marketing

  31. I must be doing something that confuses the systems, as I never get a useful coupon..  Or perhaps my habits are not desirable and this is their attempt to dissuade me from shopping at any of these places.

    Pro tip: if you get snail mail spam with a prepaid envelope, send them your unwanted coupons :)

  32. Just because you use their little loyalty cards and coupons doesn’t mean you’re required to acknowledge their advertising. If a few data points get some marketing slob all excited, that’s their business. If same slob is then willing to mail you a coupon – and you can actually use that coupon to meaningful ends – go ahead and use it. If not, chuck it in the trash and carry on.

  33. Like others I notice that ads appearing on this site reflect my recent searches for products – presumably using cookies? But I would never, ever click on an internet ad, so I don’t really care. They might know stuff about me, but they don’t seem to know that.

  34. Company in profiling customers SHOCKER.

    I actually find it clever, not creepy.

    Amazon is always trying to sell me stuff based upon what it thinks I want. Facebook has decided that certain friends it won’t even tell me about because it thinks I shouldn’t care about them (that’s more creepy to me.)

  35. My main thing is if I go to check the mail there’s always at least some junk mail, some of it targeting people who are about to retire, coupons for stores I never go to. If it cut down the ads down to just a hand full of stuff from the stores I go to, I really wouldn’t be that upset. Using that comparison, if I buy it from a store, it’s in public, filled with cameras already watching every move I make. There’s nothing embarrassing I buy from Target. I don’t care if they, or anyone else knows what I buy from there.

    Now, tell me an Adult store is doing this, and letting everyone know what sex toys people are buying and I’ll be pissed because you do buy more private things from a store of that nature. But honestly, this in the long-run will be a resource saver and invades no more privacy than is already invaded by cameras. If we’re bothered by this, then we should be demanding the removal of the cameras as well. (which honestly, I’d prefer, but I know realistically won’t happen.)

  36. I guess if I cared that much, I would pay with cash and politely decline to provide my phone number. 

    But say my neighbor is watching me out the window, trying to piece together details of my life based on little things they see – that is real friggin creepy.  If Target does it with a computer, it doesn’t really bother me; it is just business.  I like getting register coupons for things I would actually buy anyway.  Or at least I think I would buy them anyway . . . maybe they are tricking me.

  37. It doesn’t bother me, per say, but it does annoy me a bit.  They’re still sending coupons for formula.  For my nearly 3 year old kid.  They also don’t tend to send me coupons for things I actually buy.  No, it’s for a competing brand of the same product, generally the most expensive ‘normal’ brand, that either doesn’t work as well or I just simply don’t like and would never buy.

    If this is targeted advertising, I humbly suggest they’re doing it wrong.

Comments are closed.