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Undercover Marketing

“If we wanted to figure out if a customer is pregnant, even if she didn’t want us to know, can you do that?”

This was the question posted to Target statistician Andrew Pole, as recounted in the New York Times article “How companies learn your secrets”.  New parents have always been a boon for “one-stop” retailers like Target, as this life-change offers a small opportunity to alter engrained buying habits.  “Coming in for diapers?  Might as well pick up some supper too.”  The competition for new parents’ attention is so fierce that Target wanted to get a jump on their competition and begin their marketing efforts before baby was even born.

And Pole delivered.  He analyzed women’s purchase history and identified 25 products (pre-natal vitamins, maternity wear, etc.)  that when considered together, generated a “pregnancy prediction score”.   This allowed him to estimate who was a mommy-to-be, and approximately when she was due.  Target then created custom “mommy-themed” flyers and coupons, disguised as regular flyers, and sent them specifically to these women, who were unaware of their data-gleaned origins.

And Target is not the only retailer doing this.  As the article explains, “Almost every major retailer, from grocery chains to investment banks to the U.S. Postal Service, has a “predictive analytics” department devoted to understanding not just consumers’ shopping habits but also their personal habits, so as to more efficiently market to them.”

Does this story give you pause?  Or does the prospect of a tailored-deal excite you?  Either way, just wait.  Those predictive analytics departments are about to get a whole lot more in-your-face thanks to mobile wallets.

The internet has been awash with talk of mobile wallets.  (For the uninitiated, Jen’s post ‘The Next Step’ provides a great introduction).  People are quick to talk about their convenience, the “coolness” of the technology, their lighter pockets.  But less often do they mention the real reason for their existence; marketing.

A few weeks ago, I read an article that explained how RBC is poised to be the first Canadian bank to offer mobile wallets, possibly as a soon as October.  Interestingly, this article also spoke at great length of the marketing advantages of the technology.

Retailers will now be able to collect purchase-data more easily than ever before, tailoring promotions to specific consumers.  Combine this with your smartphone’s location-aware technology and retailers can now text you their latest flyer when you are near their store.  Or alert you of their lunch special.

There are obvious advantages for both merchants and consumers alike, and it might be nice to walk into your favourite store and be provided with a list of on-sale items, or a coupon.  We won’t know how this latest evolution of analytics will play out, but one thing’s for sure – we’ll all be watching.  Oh, and so will they.

Do you think predictive analytics improve the retailer/customer dynamic?  Or, are they an invasion of privacy?

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The Next Step

When I was ten years old, I opened my first savings account. Well, my mother opened it for me, but I got to go to the bank with her and the teller told me what to do if I wanted to put money in my account on my own. She gave me a little book that was filled with blank pages, and she explained that every time I put money in my account someone would write the information down so I would have a running tally of deposits, and I would be able to use that information to find out how much money I had in my bank account. I’m pretty sure I still have that passbook somewhere. I might keep it to show my grandchildren how I used to do my banking back in the old days. Can you believe that we actually wrote it all down? On paper!

In the last twenty  years, we’ve gone from manual entry on a passbook to computer updates on the passbook to the ATM card that gives you twenty-four/seven access to any bank from any store. I can’t even remember the last time I used an ATM to get money, now that I can go to the grocery store and get a litre of milk and take cash from my account at the same time. But did you really think that technology would stop there?

Say hello to the EnStream Mobile Wallet Project.

EnStream is a joint mobile commerce venture between some of the biggest cellular carriers in Canada. For the last couple of years, EnStream has been looking at different ways to make banking more convenient for cellphone users, primarily through apps and online banking. Now EnStream is in talks with Canada’s big banks to take the next step and make your ATM card completely obsolete. The Mobile Wallet would allow the telecom companies to embed credit and debit card information on your SIM Card – that ridiculously small piece of plastic that locks into your phone and works as the key to your personal life. Currently, where your SIM card goes, your phone information follows. Soon, your banking info will tie in as well. There are signs that the project could even be taken a step further. Think of how thin your wallet will become when your driver’s license, ATM card, and credit cards have all been replaced by your Smartphone.

Of course, as with everything in life, there is a catch. And this catch could prove to be quite inconvenient. If I go to a restaurant tonight and misplace my Blackberry, it’s a major pain in the you-know-where and I have to go looking for the phone and then call the cellular carrier and get a new phone number and buy a new phone.  If I go to a restaurant five years from now and misplace my Blackberry, my entire life is now up for grabs to whoever picks up the phone. And we’re not talking about them being able to read my emails to my mum. We’re talking about identity theft made quick and convenient.

Security and technology have been advancing side-by-side with each other for years. All those years ago, when I got that first bank account, anti-virus meant taking vitamins to avoid getting the flu and firewalls were found only in cars and buildings. It will be interesting to see what comes first – the creation of a SIM Card that will allow for banking and personal information to be stored on a phone, or the construction of security systems that will need to be put into place within a Smartphones’ operating system to safeguard that information. Should we allow for the former without the latter, or can we trust that security will catch up with technology before things go wrong?

 

Would you use the mobile wallet service if it was available? Would you be worried about the security of that information?

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