Fresh Direct, a New York-based grocery delivery service, often includes free samples in customers’ boxes. Orders for a case of generic seltzer prompts a sample of the company’s own Pellegrino-style sparkling water. The link between a similar order and two small bottles of high-end Italian soda (one lemon, one tangerine) is less clear. Was it the gingerale? The citrus? The artsy neighborhood? The seltzer (again)?
The customer actually likes those sodas very much, but doesn’t buy them for reasons of health (cutting back on sugar) and budget. But it is unsettling that a company can so accurately predict, through non-obvious research and experience, a customer’s preference.
Is there such a thing as utilizing too much marketing information?
That’s one of the questions begged by a recent New York Times’ magazine cover story involving Target. The company tracked purchases with such detail that they could predict with stunning accuracy a woman’s pregnancy, down to the trimester. The revelation that Target knew a teenager was pregnant before her parents did launched a viral blog post on Forbes. Most households welcome coupons and discounts. But most people value their privacy. Where is the line?
Some experts say it’s something everyone in our digital age will just have to get used to – a lack of privacy, driven by the trackable data we create every day, with every online mouse click. Even services we stop using may still track our behavior, unbeknownst to us – as the OnStar car service said this fall.
The question for market researchers, and companies trying to better understand their customers, is just how much is too much information to have about customers. Or is the issue not the information gathering, but how it’s used – and if so, how do you tell what is too much and how much is just right? What is the difference between an angry father and valuable coupons, between creepy lemon soda and complimentary sparkling water?