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How Target Found Out a Teen Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did

Forbes has an interesting piece that will make you think twice before sliding your debit card:

Every time you go shopping, you share intimate details about your consumption patterns with retailers. And many of those retailers are studying those details to figure out what you like, what you need, and which coupons are most likely to make you happy. Target, for example, has figured out how to data-mine its way into your womb, to figure out whether you have a baby on the way long before you need to start buying diapers.

Charles Duhigg outlines in the New York Times how Target tries to hook parents-to-be at that crucial moment before they turn into rampant — and loyal — buyers of all things pastel, plastic, and miniature. He talked to Target statistician Andrew Pole — before Target freaked out and cut off all communications — about the clues to a customer’s impending bundle of joy. Target assigns every customer a Guest ID number, tied to their credit card, name, or email address that becomes a bucket that stores a history of everything they’ve bought and any demographic information Target has collected from them or bought from other sources. Using that, Pole looked at historical buying data for all the ladies who had signed up for Target baby registries in the past.

Many of us purchase soap and cotton balls. However, if we buy scent-free soap, jumbo bags of cotton balls, hand sanitizers, and washcloths, we might be ready to deliver a baby. In fact, their collection of information about their customers is so eerily accurate they’ve even had to camouflage their data so customers don’t feel as if they’ve been spied on. In one anecdote, a teenage girl started getting coupons for cribs and baby-related items. This understandably irritated her father, who stormed into Target demanding they stop encouraging his teenager to get pregnant.

Turns out, Target’s number crunchers knew more about what had been going on in his house than he did.

Read the rest here if you have the stomach for it.

Nancy French is the editor of the Patheos Faith and Family Portal, where this article first appeared.


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