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Dad learns of daughter’s pregnancy through Target

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How much data have some companies collected about its customers? Enough to make a dad learn of his high school daughter’s pregnancy not from her but from an ad mailed to her from Target.

Forbes reported on a marketing project Target undertook to identify expecting mothers earlier than their competitors.

Andrew Pole, a Target statistician, told the story of a man who went to a store outside Minneapolis and demanded to see a manager. The man was irate that the store mailed his daughter coupons for baby clothes and cribs.

The man angrily asked if the store was trying to encourage her to get pregnant. But, unbeknownst to him, his daughter actually was pregnant and expecting. After getting the details from his daughter, he told the manager he owed them an apology.

Pole said the store created a “pregnancy prediction” score, based on when people buy about 25 products. Examples include when people buy large amounts of scent-free soap, extra-big bags of cotton balls, hand sanitizers and washcloths.

The store can customize letters through a Guest ID, which is uniquely assigned to every customer. Not only does it keep track of everything a customer buys. It also has information like age, marital status and whether you have kids.

Pole told The New York Times, which first reported the story, “We are very conservative about compliance with all privacy laws. But even if you’re following the law, you can do things where people get queasy.”

The company eventually tweaked its ad mailing policies after seeing how random groups of women reacted. The Times noted the store eventually prevented Pole from talking with them.

The report notes Target is by far not the only business that has a “predictive analytics” department. Grocery chains, investment banks and even the U.S. Postal Service also have them.