Looking up at the ceiling in Target can make you feel like you’re a character in the middle of a Black Mirror episode. Why does Target have a camera installed every few meters? Who is watching those clips? What does it do with all that footage? And why does it have more cameras than practically every other store?
Well, to put it bluntly, those are for security. But there is a good chance they’re sometimes used to capture and study your shopping habits. They have analysts that can look into your cart and figure out your life story. Using the footage, they can see how consumers who stocked up with healthy food at the beginning, are more likely to add junk food as they go deeper into the store. It helps them decide which brands should be on the ends of aisles to coax you to go into each one. The analysts at Target are some of the best, which is why they can do this better than most other companies.
Charles Duhigg claims in The Power of Habit that “If you have ever use a Target-issued credit card, used a frequent buyer tag, redeemed a coupon that was mailed to your house, filled out a survey, mailed in a refund, phoned the customer helpline, opened an email from Target, visited Target.com, or purchased anything online,” then there’s a good chance that they have a Guest ID number for you that includes demographic information about you as well information on all of your previous purchases.
There’s a very high chance that Target knows more about your life than your parents do! Using this information, they can mail out coupons they know you will need or suggest products in the app. The system picks up on your habits and mails out coupons accordingly.
Once the system has figured out you have kids in the house, for example, it will start sending coupons for school supplies every September and the minute this shopper starts purchasing dorm materials, for example, it will switch to things college students usually need. Or based on your in-store purchase, their research tool can predict and provide you with relevant offers on your receipt. Target does not plan on letting you ever feel the need to go anywhere else for your shopping needs.
Obviously, this can freak people out; after all, people want their doctor or pregnancy test to tell them they’re expecting, not Target. So they’re more subtle about it and add some random products in so you never get suspicious.
It is understandable if this doesn’t sit well with you, in which case the best thing to do is to shop at Target using cash and avoid signing up for any of Target’s reward programs or services. However, the thing is that Target isn’t the only company doing this but they’re doing it well and if this means you can get personalized coupons without having to ask for them, then all of this is actually pretty great.