Be aware of shopping-habit marketing

Companies are studying your shopping practices to figure out ways to market their products to you on an individual basis. Can your awareness of your own habits manipulate them to get better deals?

An article in the New York Times describes how retailer Target studied buying habits to predict what you might purchase and use that information to lure you into buying other products from them. Some people don’t like the idea of being studied and marketed to, but that doesn’t change the fact that it happens on a daily basis, from the cookies planted on your computer to track the sites you visit to the list of items associated with your credit or loyalty reward card.

You can try to avoid the tracking by regularly clearing the cache and cookies from your computer, avoiding the use of rewards cards, and paying only with cash. You can also be aware of the practice and know that your buying habits could trigger coupon incentives that you can later use and knowing that the company is seeking to maximize its profits by engaging in a practice that benefits it.

Ponderables: If companies can gather information that people are knowingly providing and use that to market to that individual, is that harmful or helpful? Is such data collection too invasive? Should be people be allowed to access their own personal files of data? What are the long-term implications for the marketplace in terms companies that can afford this type of marketing strategy, and choose to use it, compared to companies that choose not to use it or ones that are so small that they cannot afford it?