Imagine this, you are a father of a high school-aged daughter. One day when checking through the mail you find a Target promotional flyer, addressed to your daughter congratulating her on her first child. However, she has not mentioned anything about a pregnancy to you. This is exactly how a man was feeling as he barged into a local Target in the Minneapolis area demanding an explanation. He was appalled that they would be sending such coupons to his household as almost to encourage his daughter to get pregnant while still in high school. After the initial shock and anger had diminished he contacted his daughter and it turns out there are somethings that she had in fact been hiding from him. So how is it that Target knew his daughter was pregnant before he did?
In this article posted by the New York Times, they explain that Target is a very fond user of big data. Employer Andrew Pool was brought into Target for the purpose of analyzing consumer behavior including shopping cycles and figure out how the company can exploit them. The initial target was promoting featured toys to families with children around Christmas time through the use of promotional catalogs or coupons. However this project was overshadowed by his new task of identifying the impacts that important milestones in consumers’ lives such as college graduation, relocating, and pregnancy have on consumer purchasing patterns. It turns out that with the occurrence of a momentous event actually creates a newfound flexibility in purchase behavior leading to the experimentation of buying new brands.
One of the largest milestones in life is the addition of a baby to the family. However, the article states the identifying pregnant consumers solely from the shopping patterns proved more difficult than they anticipated. Pole began by analyzing the effects that their approaching due date had on their purchasing habits by looking at their shower registry’s. Patterns began to emerge. For example while in the first 5 months of the pregnancy women typically stock up on supplements such as calcium, zinc, etc. After countless tests Pole was able to identify a total of 25 products that when compiled together could predict the probability of that consumer being pregnant. Here is the scary part. With that data Target could even predict how far along in the pregnancy the customer was, therefore being able to correctly predict the baby’s due date with a small margin of error.
Now while this may fascinate some, most people feel this is an invasion of privacy. There has to be a balance of pulling data from their customers and discovering life-changing news before they even know themselves. This lesson was brought to the forefront on that fateful day when Target discovered a man’s daughter was pregnant before he even knew himself. Moving forward, they wished not to scare aware their customers with their high precise and invasive data. So while they can still utilize the patterns they discover Target is now doing a better job of disguising them. So if that man’s daughter were to receive a promotion flyer now it would still posses coupons for pregnancy related items while also containing promotions for non-related items such as grill accessories. I found this article to be fascinating that companies have the ability to pull mass amounts of information to go as far as be able to predict a women’s due date.