The New York Times Magazine recently ran an amazing story about how Target and other stores are analyzing every single purchase you make to predict what you might buy and how they can change your habits to purchase things you didn’t even know you needed.
The story by Charles Duhigg was adapted from his new book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.” The article explains how people form habits and how companies use statistics to figure out what you’re likely to buy and what habits you have formed. They also use highly targeted marketing campaigns to entice you into changing your habits and purchase their products.
The article is nine screens long and I can only pull a little bit so you simply have to click on the link and read the ENTIRE article. It is well worth your time! Go on, read. I’ll wait and then we’ll discuss.
Here are some of the highlights from the article:
“The only problem is that identifying pregnant customers is harder than it sounds. Target has a baby-shower registry, and Pole started there, observing how shopping habits changed as a woman approached her due date, which women on the registry had willingly disclosed. He ran test after test, analyzing the data, and before long some useful patterns emerged. Lotions, for example. Lots of people buy lotion, but one of Pole’s colleagues noticed that women on the baby registry were buying larger quantities of unscented lotion around the beginning of their second trimester. Another analyst noted that sometime in the first 20 weeks, pregnant women loaded up on supplements like calcium, magnesium and zinc. Many shoppers purchase soap and cotton balls, but when someone suddenly starts buying lots of scent-free soap and extra-big bags of cotton balls, in addition to hand sanitizers and washcloths, it signals they could be getting close to their delivery date.”
“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.”
For example Target was sending pregnancy coupons to a teenage girl in Minnesota. The father came into complain but then later found out his teenage daughter was in fact actually pregnant. Target knew before he did!
But hey, isn’t that a little bit creepy? Do you want Target knowing this before you’ve started telling people?
“ ‘With the pregnancy products, though, we learned that some women react badly,’ the executive said. ‘Then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We’d put an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers. We’d put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance.’ “
“ ‘And we found out that as long as a pregnant woman thinks she hasn’t been spied on, she’ll use the coupons. She just assumes that everyone else on her block got the same mailer for diapers and cribs. As long as we don’t spook her, it works.’ ”
I will say that Target is one of my favorite shopping experiences. (However, now I am creeped out.) I was in that baby boom between 2002 to 2010. I had two of my three in that time period and did start buying lots of clothes and groceries there (for convenience) along with my diapers, DVDs and toys.
I do hate being a forgone conclusion. And it seriously makes me rethink using my Target card even with the 5 percent off. I like the card because then I don’t have to keep up with receipts to return things. They make it easy for you to use the card so they can keep getting your info! (I’m figuring it all out now!)
The kicker to the story is the best. It’s a quote from Pole:
“Just wait. We’ll be sending you coupons for things you want before you even know you want them.”
So what do you think? Are you surprised at the level in which your purchases are being analyzed? Are you bothered that someone is taking note of whether your moisturizer is scented or not?
Is it worth paying in cash so they don’t have ID for you? Are you happy to get the coupons that are actually for things you buy? Did you notice Target or other stores sending you pregnancy ads before you were out? Would you rather sign up like the Publix baby club or does that bother you too?
What do you make of the conclusion that if Target can get you after you’ve just had a baby you’ll stay with them for life and for many, many items?
Did you switch your consumption habits around the birth of your child?