Author Topic: How Companies Learn Your Secrets  (Read 599 times)

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Offline thaiga

How Companies Learn Your Secrets
« on: February 20, 2012, 11:25:14 AM »
Andrew Pole had just started working as a statistician for Target in 2002, when two colleagues from the marketing department stopped by his desk to ask an odd question: “If we wanted to figure out if a customer is pregnant, even if she didn’t want us to know, can you do that? ”

Pole has a master’s degree in statistics and another in economics, and has been obsessed with the intersection of data and human behavior most of his life. His parents were teachers in North Dakota, and while other kids were going to 4-H, Pole was doing algebra and writing computer programs. “The stereotype of a math nerd is true,” he told me when I spoke with him last year. “I kind of like going out and evangelizing analytics.”

As the marketers explained to Pole — and as Pole later explained to me, back when we were still speaking and before Target told him to stop — new parents are a retailer’s holy grail. Most shoppers don’t buy everything they need at one store. Instead, they buy groceries at the grocery store and toys at the toy store, and they visit Target only when they need certain items they associate with Target — cleaning supplies, say, or new socks or a six-month supply of toilet paper. But Target sells everything from milk to stuffed animals to lawn furniture to electronics, so one of the company’s primary goals is convincing customers that the only store they need is Target. But it’s a tough message to get across, even with the most ingenious ad campaigns, because once consumers’ shopping habits are ingrained, it’s incredibly difficult to change them.
There are, however, some brief periods in a person’s life when old routines fall apart and buying habits are suddenly in flux. One of those moments — the moment, really — is right around the birth of a child, when parents are exhausted and overwhelmed and their shopping patterns and brand loyalties are up for grabs. But as Target’s marketers explained to Pole, timing is everything. Because birth records are usually public, the moment a couple have a new baby, they are almost instantaneously barraged with offers and incentives and advertisements from all sorts of companies. Which means that the key is to reach them earlier, before any other retailers know a baby is on the way. Specifically, the marketers said they wanted to send specially designed ads to women in their second trimester, which is when most expectant mothers begin buying all sorts of new things, like prenatal vitamins and maternity clothing. “Can you give us a list?” the marketers asked.

“We knew that if we could identify them in their second trimester, there’s a good chance we could capture them for years,” Pole told me. “As soon as we get them buying diapers from us, they’re going to start buying everything else too. If you’re rushing through the store, looking for
bottles, and you pass orange juice, you’ll grab a carton. Oh, and there’s that new DVD I want. Soon, you’ll be buying cereal and paper towels from us, and keep coming back.”

The desire to collect information on customers is not new for Target or any other large retailer, of course. For decades, Target has collected vast amounts of data on every person who regularly walks into one of its stores. Whenever possible, Target assigns each shopper a unique code — known internally as the Guest ID number — that keeps tabs on everything they buy. “If you use a 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,” Pole said. “We want to know everything we can.”

Also linked to your Guest ID is demographic information like your age, whether you are married and have kids, which part of town you live in, how long it takes you to drive to the store, your estimated salary, whether you’ve moved recently, what credit cards you carry in your wallet and what Web sites you visit. Target can buy data about your ethnicity, job history, the magazines you read, if you’ve ever declared bankruptcy or got divorced, the year you bought (or lost) your house, where you went to college, what kinds of topics you talk about online, whether you prefer certain brands of coffee, paper towels, cereal or applesauce, your political leanings, reading habits, charitable giving and the number of cars you own. (In a statement, Target declined to identify what demographic information it collects or purchases.) All that information is meaningless, however, without someone to analyze and make sense of it. That’s where Andrew Pole and the dozens of other members of Target’s Guest Marketing Analytics department come in.
Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist should have his head examined.
 

Lebowski

  • Guest
Re: How Companies Learn Your Secrets
« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2012, 12:31:54 PM »
Privacy is now really a myth and increasingly becoming illegal in more and more countries. Even corporate monsters like this one mentioned above is gathering unauthorized info on everyone at it's will, then you've also got the likes of Google and the various departments of government doing as they see fit until they get caught out, by accident most of the time.

Is there any wonder people go to such long lengths on the Internet to surf in private with VPNs and proxy servers or IP hiding software with keyscamblers and all the rest? Some governments are trying to outlaw these types of software too.

I'm sure many who read this take their privacy on the net very seriously indeed and it's crazy who, and how many, are watching everything you type and everywhere you visit. Hell, downloading IP tracking software is as easy as downloading Firefox these days.
 

Offline Johnnie F.

Re: How Companies Learn Your Secrets
« Reply #2 on: February 20, 2012, 01:11:50 PM »
Think you're safe, because you pay cash and don't use a credit card for your purchases? Wrong! You think the store gives you something for free by giving you this rebate card. You think they'd only want you to come again because of the tiny rebate? No, they're collecting data by that to make you come again with lots of other tricks.

Ever wondered why the special offer ads in your mail box aren't the same as the one your neighbor gets from the same shop? They studied your shopping habits already and know what they have to put up to make you come. So their assortment of special offers at low price doesn't have to be so big or all over the month. They don't know only what you'll fall for, but also when you'll fall for it. Helps them to speed up the capital turn-over. All for your convenience only:spin
Fun is the one thing that money can't buy
 

Offline thaiga

Re: How Companies Learn Your Secrets
« Reply #3 on: February 20, 2012, 03:58:24 PM »
READ THE END BIT HILARIOUS :lol

"For decades, Target has collected vast amounts of data on every person who regularly walks into one of its stores. Now the NY Times Magazine reports on how companies like Target identify those unique moments in consumers' lives when their shopping habits become particularly flexible and the right advertisement or coupon can cause them to begin spending in new ways. Among life events, none are more important than the arrival of a baby, and new parents are a retailer's holy grail. In 2002, marketers at Target asked statisticians to answer an odd question: 'If we wanted to figure out if a customer is pregnant, even if she didn't want us to know, can you do that?' Specifically, the marketers said they wanted to send specially designed ads to women in their second trimester, which is when most expectant mothers begin buying all sorts of new things, like prenatal vitamins and maternity clothing. 'We knew that if we could identify them in their second trimester, there's a good chance we could capture them for years,' says statistician Andrew Pole. 'As soon as we get them buying diapers from us, they're going to start buying everything else too.' As Pole's computers crawled through the data, he was able to identify about 25 products that, when analyzed together, allowed him to assign each shopper a 'pregnancy prediction' score and he soon had a list of tens of thousands of women who were most likely pregnant. 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. '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 apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again but the father was somewhat abashed. '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.'"
Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist should have his head examined.
 

 



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