Using Predictive Analytics To Learn Shoppers’ Habits

by Christopher Paul on February 27, 2012

From the NY Times:

Very creepy but interesting article in the NY Times on how statisticians and behaviorists are coming up with models to predict shopping habits and future product needs before the customer does. The author talks about a man who went to work for Target to figure out how to get new shoppers in their stores and thought targeting pregnant women would be one way to do that.

See, retailers know that most shopping habits are set but can be altered when major life events – like having a child – can cause things to reset. Target, knowing this, was able to get rather invasive when marketing to expectant mothers. In once case, Target knew a teenager was pregnant and began sending coupons to her house before she had a chance to tell her parents:

“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, according to an employee who participated in the conversation.

“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 didn’t have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man’s daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.

On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “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.””

The article goes into how habits form and how people don’t even know that most of their day revolves around habitual behaviors. Thankfully, there are ways to break habits and the author, Charles Duhigg, goes into his own experiments with altering his habit of eating a cookies which led to weight gain.

If you’re interested habit heuristics, statistics, marketing, or just want to be creeped out at how much data companies can compute your personal habits without you even knowing, read this.

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