Where do you go to buy paper towels? How about a new shirt? What kind of store do you visit when you are thirsty for a carbonated beverage? Chances are that the stores you mentioned differ in each case, even though all of those products can be found in stores such as Target or Walmart. The reason is that people’s brains are wired to conserve energy, and they do so by developing habits and patterns of behavior. Thus, if you tend to buy soda at the local convenience store, doing so becomes a habit, and that’s where you go every time you feel thirsty.
Such habitual behaviors are both a boon and a bane for marketers. For the grocery store where you buy paper towels, it’s great; it will keep getting your business. But how can competitive retailers get you to change your pattern? In most cases, the answer is that they can’t. However, in certain moments in people’s lives, they are more open to new influences, such as when they move, when they get married or—perhaps most notably—when they have a baby.
Marketers have learned these lessons well, and in some cases, the question is whether they have learned it too well. Target determined that when women are in their second trimester of a pregnancy, they tend to buy more unscented lotion and soap, larger bags of cotton balls, and more zinc supplements. In turn, it began sending advertisements and offers for diapers and cribs to women who bought such items, according to its databases. Instead of buying more though, many women responded by describing how creepy it was for Target to know they were pregnant before they had even said anything. For one pregnant teenager, Target’s marketing moves made for a very awkward conversation with her parents.
Although Target’s efforts were notable, because of their effectiveness with this target market, the retailer is far from the only one to study habitual behaviors. Politicians consider how to change habits to get more voters to come to the polls. Tony Dungy used this science to determine how linemen responded to on-field cues, then changed their habits and helped his team win the Super Bowl.
- How does market research reveal consumers’ habitual behaviors?
- Discuss the ethics of such market research.
Source: Charles Duhigg, “How Companies Learn Your Secrets,” The New York Times, February 16, 2012
C Arias said:
Market research utilizes data collected from scanners which provides information into the consumer’s buying patterns and preferences. Based on buying patterns predictions can be made as to complementary products which may be purchased later on like the pregnancy situation. While these practices can seem creepy and outside the line consumers are willingly providing stores with information therefore it is not unethical for the stores to utilize useful information which consumers provide.
Wow! What Target did truly is remarkable, and I believe ethical as well. It is a little scary to see how much stores can learn about you just by tracking your purchases but I still believe that doing so is not only ethical but is a great business practice to pursue in order to increase sales.
Kyle T. said:
I believe what Target is doing is a great use of market research and is not at all unethical. They are not literally spying on people, just simply making educated guesses in order to try to better cater to their customers’ needs. In fact, their strategy could have easily backfired if they continued to send those kinds of coupons to people who were not pregnant but began purchasing more of the items listed above for some other reason. Though some may find it creepy, that is just another risk Target is taking. They have to determine if these kinds of strategies are actually benefiting the company instead of hurting their image and reputation. And if they do deem these strategies to be successful, I think that they have made revolutionary changes to the ways companies can use market research while still remaining ethical.
This article is very interesting and creepy as well to reveal how much a store actually knows about a person without actually talking to them. Market research uses scanners, observation, and sometimes customer surveys to figure out the habitual behaviors of consumers. I believe this is ethical for a marketer to predict these behaviors because they are simply observing in most cases. It may be too far as to actually make it known to the consumer that they know these facts about them, however just knowing them and using them in their advantage is part of the company’s business. It is weird to think how such a large company can figure out these details in their markets, but in the end this is why these companies are as successful as they are.
Courtney F. said:
The market research that has been conducted has predicted exactly what I would expect, that people’s store preferences do not change except for a few times in his/ her life. However, it is fairly difficult for marketers to specifically target someone who, for example, just moved to a different area or just had a baby. Nonetheless, stores like Target have found a way around this and have found ways to specifically target these specific consumers. I am not sure how ethical this is because it is getting a little too nosey into a consumers life. Though, yes, this might be a little too personal for consumers comfort, but in the end, it does end up helping both the consumer and the marketer. The marketer will know when to target certain customers and the customers will also know about products when they will probably need them most.