“How Companies Learn your Secrets”

In class on Friday we talked about a company called Target and how they were able to gather so much information about their customers that they were able to figure out whether one of their customers was pregnant and approximately how far along they were. I looked it up on Google and came across an interesting article in the New York Times, “How companies know your secrets”, by Charles Duhigg. The article outlines how Target was able to figure out such personal information and how they profited from this information.

How it works is that Target assigns each individual a Guest ID number, which not only keeps tabs on everything a customer buys but also whether you used a credit card, coupons, have ever called customer service, filled out a survey or visited the company website. This is the basic data that Target can personally collect however there is also a lot of information about individuals up for sale such as your age, marital status, where you live, what you earn and what web sites you visit, your ethnicity, job history, and much more. Basically a store like Target wants to know everything they can.

They use all this information to run tests and analysis and see emerging patterns of certain products pregnant women buy such as larger quantities of unscented lotion and load up on supplements such as calcium, magnesium and zinc. Target used these emerging patterns to figure out how close a customer was getting to her due date and to send these customers unique coupons depending on how far along they were.

However they stumbled across a problem once they started freaking out women by letting on that they know about their pregnancy by sending them unique pregnancy related coupons. People were really uncomfortable by the information Target had on them, so Target decided to become sneakier and when creating the customized coupon booklets by including a bunch of random coupons as well as the pregnancy related coupons, to make it seem like it was completely random. This way the women would not feel like they were spied on and still use the coupons.

The article explains many other interesting things about customer data mining and analysis and is definitely worth a read!



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