Sunday, August 25, 2013

Target(ting) your privacy?

School accessories for kids I don't have...
Aftershave for a man I don't have...
Blenders, toasters, microwave... already have those...
Candy galore... all the kinds that I don't like...

...*sigh*... useless junk mail!

Can someone P.l-e-a-s-e send me some coupons that I can ac.tually use?!

Where’s a Target when you need one?

According to a Forbes article (Feb 2012) following Target’s hiring of Statistician Andrew Pole in 2002, until 2010 the store reported an increase in revenue of $23 billion ($44b in 2002 to $67b in 2010). I’d say someone is doing something right.

How Target figured out a teen girl was pregnant before her father did… Now there’s a heading that got my attention, and I simply had to read the article because, after all, curiosity killed the cat, right?

So before we get started, let me enlighten you with a summary of the article: teenage girl is having sex but dad doesn’t know. Based on her spending, the Target marketing team surmises – and right on target (pun intended ;) ) – that she is pregnant and start sending her coupons in the mail for all things baby. (Heaven knows, babies can be expensive; she is sure to need all the help she can get!) However, the angle of the article is not one of gratitude. It is because of these coupons that dad discovered the fact that his little girl is pregnant, and so the angle is the individual’s right to privacy instead.

But is it really a matter of privacy?

Keeping your shopping secret from the store that you shop at…? What a bizarre concept? You want secrecy? Perhaps you should consider hunting your meat, planting a veggie garden, digging a well and pooping in the woods – preferably under a tree that drops leaves… lots of it.

Has pregnancy now become a secret affair? Perhaps, in an era of reckless sexual behaviour, in some ways is has. No matter how hard you want to try and keep it a secret though, at some stage your tummy is going to bulge, you’re going give birth, be changing dirty, smelly diapers, and that little one is going to want to eat… every 2 to 4 hours. The bags under your eyes from sleep deprivation will testify against you.

In this particular case the mommy-to-be is a teenage girl in high school. I could understand how such a pregnancy might want to be kept secret. However, who you keep it secret from is something to consider.

From the tone of the Forbes article one would swear that Target did something atrocious, like dig in the kid’s trash, spy on her with hidden cameras or stalking, but they did nothing of the sorts. What they did do, however, is show a very keen interest in their shoppers. They took the time to look, to listen, to analyze and to think. And then they did something about it. Something that worked by the look of those revenue figures.

Find a need, and meet it.

Upon discovering the baby product coupons addressed to his teenage daughter, the father initially questioned whether Target was trying to encourage his daughter to fall pregnant. Upon further investigation he discovered that no, they had merely analysed existing or past behaviour, as supposed to creating or encouraging new behaviour. Target was not so much concerned with the fact that the girl was pregnant, as what they were with supplying the needs of the expecting mother (and child) – at a discount - so as to ensure that she keeps coming back for more. (And if all went according to plan she would need to – through no doing of Target.)

It’s called ‘marketing’.

One of the captions in the article said “Target has got you in its aim”. They make it sound like you’d better watch out; Target is going to hunt you down like a lion his prey. It sounds like one party loses and one wins… at the expense of the other. Look, I am not deceived. Of course stores make more money the more people shop with them. And of course business is about making money, not so? But is it not also true that the consumer scores when they get to buy products at lower prices? Is it not a win-win? Should we stop needing things because someone is making money from supplying it?

Business is essentially all about supply and demand. If you don’t understand what the demand is, how can you possibly supply effectively? Analysing your sales also empowers you to stock your shelves appropriately. Nothing makes me run to the opposition like shelves full of emptiness. That being said, business should be conducted ethically. From what I’ve read, though, it doesn’t appear that Target has acted unethically. A business analyzing their sales and sending customers appropriate discount coupons accordingly to encourage shopping – I don’t believe – is unethical. Isn’t the goal to attract as much sales as you can? You want to make your store attractive to shoppers so that they will not only shop there but also keep coming back for more. (That little sign above the exit – “Please call again” – is not just a décor cliché.)

(I wish a store would send me a few coupons for things I actually need and/or want to buy. Granted, in my case it would probably rather be items like my favourite coffee, chocolate, perfume, body lotions or pasta products, but still it remains the idea of appropriateness, and no two individuals have the same needs/preferences.)

So, is it so bad that Target knew that the girl was pregnant?

For starters, they made an educated guess, and although they got it right, they might as well have been wrong if the girl’s spending was for a pregnant friend or family member rather than herself.

Considering how many Target customers there are, is it really reasonable to expect that each individual be evaluated for their age before coupons are sent out? What happened to if it doesn’t apply to you, simply throwing it in the trash… like everybody else… like me?

Let’s consider for a moment if they did that? “All potentially pregnant customers under the age of…… (fill in the blank) should not receive coupons.” Would that mean that in this day and age of pregnant teenagers only non-teenagers would be entitled to these discount coupons? I mean, if you really think about it, unemployed teenagers are actually the very ones in desperate need of these discounts. Would you not grant it to them because they are too young for discounts? But they’re not too young to be pregnant? Is that it?

Regardless of your opinion / conviction about teenage pregnancy, it is a reality in this day. It is – in my opinion – not the ideal but it is the reality. If Target recognizes this and meets this need – albeit for profit – does this make them the bad guy? Or should we swing it the other way: if children of our modern day society would stop falling pregnant then there wouldn’t be any money making opportunities for “wolves” like Target to take advantage of. Maybe more articles should be written about the inappropriate sexual behaviour of teens… I don’t know. You tell me?

Let’s consider the fact that the girl’s father was not yet informed of her pregnancy. Is it really fair to expect that Target smell which pregnant teenager has communicated their condition with their parents or not? Isn’t it the responsibility of the teenager and parent to talk to each other about these things? Parent/child relationships are not the responsibility of Target’s marketing team; Sales is.

The tragic reality is that – whether you’re afraid to tell your parents or not – at some point (if you don’t have an abortion along the way) you are going to need those diapers, strollers, etc., whether you like it or not. In your unemployed condition would you really turn down the opportunity to buy these cheaper? Because in the end your pride (or regret, embarrassment, etc.) is not going to keep baby warm, dry or fed, and at this point in the game, you can no longer afford to only think of yourself – not anymore.

In sending out these coupons it is not as if Target was advertising your personal affairs on a bill board. You shop from them. How should they not know what you need to purchase? How would they supply the products? It would be like going to the doctor but trying to avoid him knowing what your condition is. How then would he prescribe the correct medicine or procedure(s)?

I imagine that Mr Pole is paid well. It would seem that he is really good at his job. Paying attention – really paying attention – is a rare find nowadays. The old saying Knowledge is power is still very much alive and well! The fact that people don’t gather knowledge enough anymore is no one’s fault but the one who refuses to gather. How then can you be angry when another gathers and benefits from it? All that you really have control over is the amount of knowledge that is gathered about you.

On the flip side, if you’ve already made the mistake of revealing too much knowledge, and you have fallen victim to the discount coupons from Target… or any store for that matter… Hey! Go ahead, toss the coupons in the trash. What’s the worst that can happen? I’m sure Target (or any other store) won’t mind if you insist on buying products at the regular price… Would you?


  1. Firstly . . .If only we got coupons in South Africa like they do in America, wouldn't that be wonderful.

    I don't think Target did anything wrong or unethical, they pay attention to their customers how many shops do that these days. Now this Kashmir Hill from Forbes Staff should read your blog, aren’t journalist supposed to have unbiased opinions, seems to be she wasn't objective.

    1. I wonder how a coupon system would work in South Africa... Hmm, food for thought.

      I'm not sure how unbiased I was, but I do believe that the media is sometimes used to manipulate the thinking of the masses - rather easy for the masses who don't care to think for themselves (and question) the things they read/sea/hear in mainstream media - like sheep to the slaughter. I do think, however, that it could be quite interesting if Ms Hill would read my blog! I love a good debate :D