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Reaction to NYT Story? No Secret

The title of the story was “How Companies Learn Your Secrets.” But based on the response to this fascinating piece from The New York Times, you’d think it was, “How Personal Data Can Hit a Chord.”

The story analyses consumer habit formation and reveals some of the data mining practices at Target Corp. as an example of how retailers are able to anticipate our future purchases based on our activities of today. For instance, the story explained how Target determined that women who were pregnant started purchasing large quantities of unscented lotions and specific other goods, so it then sent them coupons for maternity clothes, nursery furniture and other baby goods.

In the days following the extensive, in-depth piece, written by Charles Duhigg and quoting Target statistician Andrew Pole, dozens of follow-up stories have followed, including an item from our loyalty publication, COLLOQUY. I did a quick Google search to see just how much pick-up the article got. I stopped after 17 pages.

The consumer commentary about the piece, of which there were 570 (and counting) on the NYT website alone, provide further evidence that there is a significant disconnect between organizations and consumers. Whether it is the need for greater transparency or to focus on delivering relevant communications, organizations still have a lot of ground to cover when it comes to respecting the data and accepting that the consumer should be a willing participant in the information exchange.

A quick analysis of these comments shows that consumers don’t mind targeted messaging, but that they do get upset when their personal information is collected and used in ways that seem sneaky:

Last year I received a box of baby formula in the mail. I was mystified and appalled. Now I understand! I hate scented products and often used to buy unscented lotion, unscented soap, and, occasionally, large bags of cotton balls at Target. Oops! Now I will have a better perspective on Target and its ilk. Cash only?

I want to see all this data everyone’s collecting about me and my habits. Companies should open-source this and speed this movement along.

It is not necessary to know individual identities, but such knowledge does enable the delivery of more personalized offers and services. These may be welcomed by opt-in frequent shoppers, but can be downright creepy when they seem to be the outcome of cyber-stalking.

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