Retail

What Target knows about you, and perhaps your pregnancy

Feb. 17, 2012 at 2:27 PM ET

Ron Levine / Getty Images stock /
The New York Times reports on what retailers know about your reproductive habits.

Your favorite big-box retailer may know you’re having a baby before you tell some of your friends and family.

New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg reports this week that Target has gone to great lengths to identify which of its customers are about to have a baby, based on the items they start putting in their cart.

The newspaper said the big-box retailer did a detailed analysis of its customers' shopping habits and found out which products they were more likely to buy as they were preparing for a new baby. That allowed them to get a head start on other retailers who may start marketing to Mom and Dad after the bundle of joy is born.

Why would that be important? Duhigg said new parents are a retailer’s dream customer because that’s a point in time when people’s shopping habits may change, so it’s a good time to snag that customer.

However, the reporter said the plan initially appeared to work too well. Duhigg recounts how one irate dad came into a local Target complaining because his teenager daughter had received coupons for baby products.

Turns out, what Dad didn’t know is that his daughter was pregnant.

Duhigg said the company changed its model somewhat, incorporating baby-related coupons in with other ones so it wasn’t quite as obvious that the parents-to-be were having their baby bump marketed to.

Duhigg notes that other companies also are taking great pains to understand their customers better, but the Times’ report focused heavily on Target.

Target told the Times that some of his reporting was inaccurate but declined to offer specific complaints.

In a statement e-mailed to msnbc.com, Target spokeswoman Stacia Smith said the company is focused on delivering great value and relevant offers, and also respecting shoppers' privacy and operating with integrity.

“Like many companies, we use research tools that help us understand guest shopping trends and preferences so that we can give our guests offers and promotions that are relevant to them. Guests are always welcome to opt out of our marketing programs,” Smith said in the statement.

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