Editorial Policy

Your Favorite Stores are Probably Spying on You

Kristin McGrath

February 24, 2012

The New York Times recently ran a fascinating piece about all the information retailers are collecting about their customers. The article focused particularly on Target, which is doing some pretty sophisticated surveillance of shoppers. By analyzing your purchases over time, the retail giant is able to tell what life changes you’re going through and offer you deals and coupons for stuff you want — before you even know you want it.
When I shop at Target (which is often), I’ve always found the coupons included with my receipt at the register to be uncannily appropriate. I buy a giant pack of power bars and, when I visit the store again a few weeks later, the register spits out a coupon — which makes me realize that I only have a few bars left. That coupon draws me back to Target again a week later, and voila! When I buy the new power bars, I get a coupon for the cleaning supplies that are just about gone.  If — or when — Target starts honing in on my clothes-shopping habits, I’m in big trouble.
Yet Target’s predictive powers go even deeper. Take, for example, the "pregnancy prediction score." Apparently, Target can tell, based on what a woman buys, whether she’s pregnant — and when her due date is.
The clues? A woman who buys a lot of unscented hand lotion, cotton balls, wash clothes and hand sanitizer is close to her delivery date — and a prime target for baby supply advertisements and coupons. The article even includes an anecdote about how Target predicted a that a teen girl was pregnant — before her father (who was enraged at all the baby supply coupons arriving at his home) found  out. 
With stores becoming better at tempting us, it’s even more important to create a budget or a shopping list and stick to it. With that in mind, here are some of the best personal finance blog posts of the week:
Money Saving Mom describes how to create a healthy and manageable routine.
Consumerism Commentary gives some tips for paying with cash.
Get Rich Slowly offers an interesting tip for saving money on groceries — cooking like a peasant.
The Centsible Life reveals how she turned her 10-year-old daughter in to an expert budgeter.
Punch Debt in the Face shares how making LESS money can actually make you happier.
Miss Money Bee warns that your friends may be causing you to spend more.