Saturday, February 18, 2012

Creepy Customer Purchase Tracking

I just read an intriguing and very long article that discusses how Target (and surely innumerable other companies) track your purchases via your "credit card or a coupon, or fill out a survey, or mail in a refund, or call the customer help line, or open an e-mail we’ve sent you or visit our Web site, we’ll record it and link it to your Guest ID.”  

Target is trying to catch consumers in a fragile state, in a time-of-shopping-habit-changes that coincide with life changes like having a child, divorce, or moving, and they created an algorithym that predicts with a pretty impressive success rate that a shopper is pregnant. Check this out:

About a year after Pole created his pregnancy-prediction model, a man walked into a Target outside Minneapolis and demanded to see the manager. He was clutching coupons that had been sent to his daughter, and he was angry, according to an employee who participated in the conversation.

“My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”
The manager didn’t have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man’s daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.
On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”

A different article on this tracking ended with this sentence: "Those people chilled by stores’ tracking and profiling them may want to consider going the way of the common criminal — and paying for far more of their purchases in cash." And why, I ask, do they have to link concerned shoppers who desire privacy with common criminals?!
Let's just be aware. My friend said she's going with cash. But if you receive an electronic coupon, or call the hotline, or get a registry, they're still tracking you, just less.

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