Target broke through to a new level of customer tracking with the help of statistical genius Andrew Pole, according to a New York Times Magazine cover story by Charles Duhigg.
Pole identified 25 products that when purchased together indicate a women is likely pregnant. The value of this information was that Target could send coupons to the pregnant woman at an expensive and habit-forming period of her life.
Plugged into Target’s customer tracking technology, Pole’s formula was a beast. Once it even exposed a teen girl’s pregnancy:
[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 apologise 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.”
Did you know stores have that technology? For more information and Target’s response, head over to the NYT.