21 02 2012

Life was so much more private back in the days when we used cash for everything. Retailer point-of-sale systems did not have bar code readers; individual items were categorized with only a few descriptors, limited by how many unused buttons were on the cash register. From an inventory control and marketing research perspective, it was pretty much useless. But at least customers had some degree of anonymity.

But now we are as transparent as Glad Wrap. Thanks to credit cards, debit cards, check and loyalty clubs, retailers are able to track each and every purchase we make, simultaneously adjusting inventories and reorder points, along with building complex customer profiles.

Yes. Profiles. As in, “We know what you did last summer.”

So I was not at all surprised when my colleague, Dr Rex Pjesky, posted this story on my FBH Wall about how Target figured out a teen girl was pregnant. Before her father knew. Turns out Target was sending baby-related direct mail pieces, and Dad accidentally saw them. Can you say surprised?

So much for secrets.

That Marketers know everything about you really is no secret these days. It’s just that we tend to forget that they are watching. All. Of. The. Time. Worse yet (or better, if you are a marketer), they have amazingly accurate algorithms that can predict if you…well…happen to be pregnant. It’s not a whole lot different from the data mining that goes on with Pandora’s Music Genome Project, or Amazon’s inexplicable ability to find something else that you need to buy (because “Others who bought this also bought…”).

Which means that we are all unwittingly contributing to an ongoing data collection project focused on you. Me. Every single one of us. And every time we purchase something anonymously (i.e., cash sans loyalty card), we are making another contribution to the ol’ database.

I see the effects of this every time I open my Netflix account. I am bombarded with suggestions to watch teen TV shows and animated movies. Of course, my kids have completely hijacked my Netflix account, so I should expect no less. But I do take a little delight in thinking that, somewhere deep within the corporate belly of this movie giant, someone is wondering, “Now why the heck did the Gerlich kids watch The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia?

Score one for Dad. I actually was able to watch something I wanted to watch.

Still, I cannot blame Target, although the Dad in me admittedly would be surprised and probably furious to find out my teenage daughter were receiving baby-related junk mail. I think someone would have some ‘splainin’ to do.

Now about those two cases of microbrews I purchased two weeks ago in Albuquerque…

Dr “In The Cross Hairs” Gerlich



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