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How Target Uses Big Data To Sell to Pregnant Mothers

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When you see ads in the sidebar of your Facebook page for shoes you’ve looked at online, it’s kind of creepy, but not totally unsettling. But when a retailer that has a tremendous online presence as well as a huge number of brick and mortar outlets can tell that you’re pregnant, perhaps even before the babydaddy does, you have to feel a little like you’re in the Twilight Zone.

But it’s true. Target can now tell when its consumers are expecting a special delivery from the stork. How are they doing this? By way of a huge variety of big data collection, analysis, and more—Target has truly made a nearly exact science of data analysis. Because we all create online habits when we’re looking for something specific, whether it’s wallets or baby bottles, companies are aggregating information about us, and Target may well be the best in class for this practice. If we’re logged into Facebook, for example, while we visit the Target.com site, it sees what we’re viewing, who we are, and so much more.

And when we’re Target customers who use Target credit cards, or the Target card that piggybacks on our personal checking account, or even just the same Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover card or even cash, Target logs the data via each of our individual guest identification numbers. These “guest IDs” are given to us (though we may know not a thing about them) from the moment we make our first Target purchase until the day our bundle of joy arrives and long after.

The Target Guest ID tracking system collects big data en masse and across a variety of platforms. It tracks data based on where you bank and how often you buy, which products you’re purchasing and how many, as well as how much you spend on average per visit, online and off. And there’s more: the Target Guest ID system knows how old you are, which gender you are, how many (if any) children you have, their ages (based on your purchase history) and finally, you guessed it, whether or not you’re expecting a new rug rat.

Once Target has figured out there’s a new member of the family on the way, it does everything it can to make itself attractive to buyers online as well as through advertisements that potentially expecting parents receive in the mail. Cutout coupons in the mail, coupon codes online, and specialized discounts based on your login information when you visit the Target website all make your purchases more palatable as an expecting parent.

The big data tie in is an enormous part of the Target success, especially among expecting mothers who are shopping online. Because of the enormous amount of information Target is able to gather about each individual shopper it serves, it’s essentially just a matter of solving an equation based on big data aggregation and analysis for the mass retailer at this point. Target also knows things about other kinds of shoppers, but the most lucrative kind of shopper in general is the expecting mother. But being the smart data collectors they are, Target does something else pretty darn clever. Just in case the father, other children, or other close family members may not yet be aware of what mommy’s pregnancy test revealed, when Target senses a mother-to-be on its radar, it sends out a mailer that includes deals on bottles, diapers, crib mattresses, and breast pumps, but it threads them throughout a seemingly random booklet of coupons so as not to arouse attention. Within the coupon booklets that come in the mail, a number of other coupons for everything from kitty litter to Windex and motor oil to sports gear and toilet paper will all be included.

It’s an intelligent and effective use of big data—perhaps the wisest and most effectively implemented we’ve ever seen from any mass retailers to date.

Nathan Roberson is a lifelong coffee addict, aficionado of all things punk rock, and is particularly fond of Boxer dogs as well as all things tech, marketing design and internet. follow him on Twitter @theMrobot or add him to your circles on Google +