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Target Sends Coupons to Pregnant Girl and Unawares Dad Explodes

Target Coupon Policies Bring Unwanted Attention to Questionable & Fraudulent Practices  

Target Company provides a Guest ID number for its customers that are tied to one’s credit card, name, and other info, and which saves all kinds of data about what you buy. Statistician Andrew Pole working at Target mined that data and saw patterns in it, for example — women on baby registries buy larger amounts of unscented lotion around the beginning of their second trimester. So what did Target do?  TargetIt sent the women coupons for other baby items. Pole had identified about 25 products that, when analyzed together, allowed him to assign each shopper a "pregnancy prediction" score. More important, he could also estimate her due date to within a small window, so Target could send coupons timed to very specific stages of her pregnancy.

Sounds like a good marketing plan, right? Not so fast. You see one customer received the coupons for baby items but the mail was “intercepted” by her father who was clueless about his daughter’s pregnancy. The angry father stormed into a Target to yell at them for sending his daughter coupons for baby clothes and cribs. He apologized to Target after confronting the daughter and finding out the truth.

Soon enough, Target learned they shouldn't stress out their customers by knowing too much about them, so they switched up their coupon booklets. According to a Target spokesperson, with the pregnancy products the company learned that some women react badly so the company started mixing in all these ads for things they 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.”

The company discovered 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. ”

Target’s plan appears to be working. Between 2002 and 2010, Target’s revenues grew from $44 billion to $67 billion. “In 2005, the company’s president, Gregg Steinhafel, boasted to a room of investors about the company’s ‘heightened focus on items and categories that appeal to specific guest segments such as mom and baby.’ ”

The obvious ethical issues are one of privacy and freedom from unwanted intrusion in one’s life and lifestyle. The fact is it is difficult at best to prevent such violations given the sophisticated computer analyses available these days. One solution might be to provide an opt-out provision when the customer checks out. The advantage of this approach is it allows customers who want the coupons to receive them while those desperately trying to protect their privacy to just say ‘no.’

This isn’t the first time Target has been on the receiving end of coupon issues. As coupon shoppers around the country know, the Learning Channel (TLC) featured a shopper two years ago who became the subject of controversy on the web. Jaime Kirlew, a paralegal and coupon workshop instructor from Maryland (Yes. There is such a thing), came under fire from several coupon-related forums for the unethical coupon tactics that she utilized in a series of YouTube videos demonstrating how to use coupons in a fraudulent manner while shopping at Target.

Kirlew called herself the "Diva For Coupons" and ran a blog under the same name. She caused a stir when she posted two videos of her Target shopping trips, in which she used $4 coupons for Schick Razors on Schick shaving gel, $10 Crest Whitestrip coupons on other P&G products, and a host of other flagrant misuses of coupons issued for one product being used on another. As if showcasing coupon fraud weren't enough, Jaime also showed herself using printable coupons for $5 off Procter & Gamble products. However, P&G has never issued printable coupons for their products, and those same coupons had been on the Coupon Information Corporation’s list of known counterfeit coupons for about five months by the time she made her videos.

Of course, one important question is why Target allows customers to so easily defraud the company and coupon providers. I suppose it’s easier to run the coupon through the system and not spend time reading the fine print while other customers wait.

I must end with one (facetious) comment. What a wonderful message to send to the TV viewers and young people in general…how to engage in a fraudulent activity and not get caught. And we wonder what has happened to civility and ethics in our society.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on February 28, 2012