Expectant mothers targeted for purchase behavior change

A study from Duke University, USA found that a whopping 45 percent of the choices we make every day are formed by habits. With this in mind you can imagine what an incredible feat it is to change a consumer’s purchasing behaviour, but one that many marketers attempt to achieve.

For marketers there are certain sweet spots in a consumer’s life when the opportunity to successfully change purchasing behaviours is ripe. The time period to create change is often brief and during hugely significant life changing moments such as marriage, divorce, changed living arrangements and even more so whilst expecting or just after the arrival of a new baby – a group the marketing department at Target USA has pursued heavily. The purchasing habits of soon to be and new parents are more flexible than any other time in an adult’s life and in turn they become more vunerable to marketing campaigns.

Often consumers don’t purchase everything they need from the same store, even if like Target USA, the store offers almost everything at a convenient one stop shop. The brands and products we purchase as well as the stores and locations we purchase them from become habits. The decisions about what to buy and where to buy them from are ingrained into us. We often have a certain store we purchase our shampoo from which maybe different to where we purchase our underwear from which maybe different to where we purchase our milk from and so on.

Expectant mothers lack time as do sleep deprived fathers. They seek convenience and their reference to old purchasing habits is thrown out the window along with any brand loyalty. If they stop by Target for some baby supplies and see the milk and the shampoo and the underwear, they are more likely to purchase it all from Target even if this wasn’t previously a habit. In this situation convenience outweighs habit. If the change occurs once, it’s more likely to happen again, and again until the old habit is changed and a new habit formed.

Target USA’s primary goal was to become the one stop shop for more consumers. To do this they strategically targeted (no pun intended) the consumer group that had the most potential to change – expectant mothers. Identifying the audience was the easy part. The challenge was how to know when a woman was pregnant to change her purchasing habit before the baby was even born. Because once the baby was born and recorded on the public birth registry, the new family would be targeted by any brand selling baby products and the difficulty to ensure Target was at the forefront of their purchasing mind would increase significantly.

The Guest (Consumer) Marketing Analytics team at Target USA was constantly doing in-depth research into the purchasing behaviours of their customers in an attempt to increase sales. The new aim was to identify soon to be mothers. Target had a baby shower gift registry and so analysis started here as to how and when (as in how close to the due date) the expectant mother’s purchasing habits change. Purchasing patterns of the group were identified including the purchase of unscented lotions, certain vitamins, cotton balls, hand sanitizers and wash-clothes. With these observation the Analytics team created a pregnancy predictor and all female shoppers on the Target USA national database were analyzed according to their purchases. If their purchasing behavior was considered high on the pregnancy predictor, they would be targeted with catalogues and vouchers for baby items.

The moral and privacy question though was how would woman feel if they were suddenly sent baby catalogues from Target when there was no way of Target knowing they were pregnant, unless of course their purchasing habits had been recorded, tracked and analysed. In an attempt to avoid a PR disaster, Target USA changed their technique. They sent catalogues targeted to this group mixed up with baby advertisements and vouchers with everyday items to disguise exactly what they knew. The results found that as long as a woman didn’t feel like her privacy had been invaded, she would use the vouchers sent to her by Target. And Target’s aim had been achieved. 

Target USA admitted to developing ‘a number of research tools that allow us to gain insights into trends and preferences within different demographic segments of our guest population.’ However they accused the original author of these findings (Charles Duhigg) of inaccurate information.

It’s a very interesting insight into how large corporations analyse our purchasing behaviours to target us with items before we know we even need them. Creepy, scary or genius? As recently revealed, Target USA is number 2 on the scale of brand value behind Walmart so they’re obviously doing something right.

Originally spotted at NYTimes. The full article is well worth the read.

Sandy Muir
Director of Brand Projects
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