Monday, April 30, 2012

Targeting You!

The Power of Emails

I went to a clothing store the other day and got a great deal. I bought a pair of pants and a shirt for only 13.99 dollars each. I found these items in the sale section, and lucky me, that day they reduced those items an extra 30 percent as part of an additional sale. I went home, felt great about my purchase and went on about my day.

The next day, I came across an article in the New York Times titled "How Companies Learn yourSecrets," by Charles Duhigg. Initially, I was not interested in reading it, because I know companies collect data about your shopping habits and target you for them, for that reason I have become what I consider a mindful shopper. As such, I try not to volunteer information about myself to companies, and if I do, I try to ensure that I truly benefit from it. Here is what mindful shopping means for me, I almost never pass on my email address, since I abhor receiving ads and offers on a daily basis. In addition, I treat my email the same way I treat my phone number – I do not give it to companies as a customer. However, when I went to that clothing store and purchased my deal, I was asked the following, "Would you like your receipt emailed to you, or printed?" As the cashier explained, "If you need to make a return, all you have to do is tell us your email address and we can look you up." "OK great,” I replied, giving in to the mindful shopping principles I had set for myself, thinking I would not have to look for any receipts at home anymore, and I make a contribution to the environment – less paper and more trees, as well as more convenience for me. 

Whatever made me read the article after all, I am not sure, but I found myself actually finishing all of the 21 well-researched pages. The article was focusing on market research and explained via specific examples how companies use your data efficiently. And those data, I had learnt, come more than just having your email address or phone number. Marketing strategies are far advanced and determined by habits that no non-market expert could even dream to think of. Anyway, I am not here to rephrase the article for you, but after reading how companies use any information they get from me to send me coupons, emails, and other rewards really struck me. I realized how much the marketing strategy of that particular store I had visited the day prior had actually worked on me.

What initially drew me into the store, when I woke up in the morning, was an email by that store in my inbox, stating that their 30 percent off sale was going to be over after that day. Their last chance reminder made me consider visiting the store. But initially laying out in my head what I really did and did not need, I decided I was not going to go to the store. But that is not where the story ended.

Later that night, I was supposed to meet a friend for dinner. In order to kill time, when I got to the area of the restaurant, I remembered that it was dangerously close to that particular store’s location. Knowing of the sale, I decided to give it a go. After all, I had thrown my first decision over board, reconsidered it, and even ended up buying things! By giving in this one time, which surely was not the first time, I had volunteered all kinds of information about myself 1. They know that I opened their email about the ending sale, meaning I will find more of those in my inbox. 2. It lured me into the store the same day in courtesy of their last minute reminder. 3. With me agreeing to getting my receipt emailed instead of printed, they now have an electronic copy of exactly what I bought that day.

All that is valuable information these kinds of stores definitely can and will use in the future. At the time of my purchase, I had asked the cashier if this volunteering of giving her my email address was for the mere purpose of sending the receipt was, she replied, "Of course." Now, I know so much better…

A version of this post appeared in Unleash'd Magazine: Eternal Summer Issue (05/2012).

The New York Times:
Charles Duhigg is a staff writer for The Times and author of "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business," which will be published on Feb. 28. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

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