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.
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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.