Target coupons inform father of daughter's pregnancy

Target knows when you are pregnant.

Target knows when you are pregnant.

A Minneapolis man discovered that his daughter was pregnant after Target started sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs, according to an eye-opening New York Times story.

The story chronicles how Target builds complex profiles of its customers, assigning each of them a "Guest ID" and studying their purchase choices to predict future sales opportunities. Pregnancy presents a pointed opportunity to change buying behavior, so Target's algorithms are particularly good at identifying new customers by the second trimester.


At first, the father was upset at Target, because he thought the retailer was encouraging his daughter to get pregnant by sending her coupons for young mothers.

"My daughter got this in the mail!" he said. "She's still in high school, and you're sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?"

The manager didn't have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man's daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing and nursery furniture, with pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.


On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. "I had a talk with my daughter," he said. "It turns out there's been some activities in my house I haven't been completely aware of. She's due in August. I owe you an apology."

But Target didn't stop the creepy target marketing -- it just got sneakier about it.

"With the pregnancy products, though, we learned that some women react badly," the executive said. "Then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We'd put an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers. We'd put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance.

"And we found out that as long as a pregnant woman thinks she hasn't been spied on, she'll use the coupons. She just assumes that everyone else on her block got the same mailer for diapers and cribs. As long as we don't spook her, it works."

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