data-mining at Target

This NY Times feature covers corporate analysis of custonmer data, particularly around identifying times when people are likely to change their shopping habits. Major events like giving birth apparently shake up your shopping habits, with the result that pregnant women are a prime target for advertising:

[a Target statistician] was able to identify about 25 products that, when analyzed together, allowed him to assign each shopper a “pregnancy prediction” score. More important, he could also estimate her due date to within a small window, so Target could send coupons timed to very specific stages of her pregnancy.

Since this is close to my professional life, I’m less shocked than I might be. If anything I’m surprised Target only worked this out in the last decade; I’d thought the big shops had been working in this way since the 90s or before.

But part of the joy of journalism is a kind of Verfremdungseffect: pointing up things I’ve placidly accepted, but which in fact are strange or objectionable.

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