What retailers know about you - MoneySense

What retailers know about you

Sales and marketing tactics are becoming so sophisticated that retailers can predict what you’re going to buy.


Once upon a time manufacturers like Procter & Gamble (think Tide and Pampers) coupon wildly to get your attention. Now retailers are getting so good at knowing who you are and what you buy that the discounts they want to give you to make you shop are slowly being customized to each customer’s individual needs.

Here’s a story to make your blood run cold: Imagine you’re the father of a teenager who, having gone through the mail, is shocked to find coupons from a major retailer addressed to your kid offering discounts on baby clothes and other accouterments. Imagine you get a little ticked, call up the retailer and give them heck because, as you see it, these are totally inappropriate coupons for your high-school daughter. Now image that a few weeks later you discover your kid’s already pregnant!

It happened.

From the New York Times came a fascinating article of how retailers now know us so well that they can predict what we’re going to want to buy, and coupon us to steer us in the direction they want. And you thought your purchasing decisions were your own.

Turns out there are marketing companies that specialize in the collection of shopping data. When they combine your shopping habits (from your credit and debit card transactions) with where you went to school, where you live, where you work and whether you’re single, married, divorced or widowed, with kids or with pets, they know a lot about you.

There appear to be some magic moments when retailers have some extra leverage when it comes to helping you decide what to buy. One of those moments comes when a baby is born. Then, as a shopper with way less time and more sleep deprivation, you’ll switch from shopping all over the place to picking one store where you can get everything you need. Multi-category retailers like Walmart and Target want to grab you and make you their customers. So they need to know as soon as you get pregnant so they can start customizing their offerings to lure you in.

Lest you think this is strictly an American phenomenon, remember that we’re importing these retailers into Canada at a wicked clip. And, by the way, Canadian Tire has been doing this for years.

Totally creeped out about the fact that retailers know so much about you? Thinking it’s time to put away the plastic and go with cold, hard cash which leaves virtually no trail? If you put privacy above savings go ahead. But you might be able to save some big money simply by switching up brands and retailers from time to time. That’ll keep them guessing, and it’ll keep them offering you discounts to win you back.