How Big Data Restored My Faith in Marketing

Jan 24, 2013


My keychain is filled with those customer loyalty cards we all collect. I've got one for Stop & Shop and one for Shop Rite. There's one for CVS and one for DSW. I've also signed up for rewards from Petsmart, Petco, and Appalachian Tails. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I'm not all that bothered by the extensive amount of data that's floating around out there about my buying habits -- whether it's attached to my Amazon account or my rewards cards. What I have been long bothered by were the still pretty crappy offers I got from many of these companies.

CVS always wants you to buy $20 worth of vitamins right that minute in order to use your $5 off coupon, which is annoying. What if I don't need $20 worth of vitamins right now? Would it kill them to give you more reasonable expiration dates? But Stop & Shop has long been the worst offender. I love to use their scanner guns so I can bag my groceries as I go. When you use the scanner, it often offers you deals on items in the store based on your buying history - and, I assume, on your location in the store. These offers are almost never actually useful for me. It irks me to no end when I get an offer for $.20 off Yoplait when the store knows damn well that I've bought Chobani every week for the past two years. I won't be changing now for $.20, so why not just send me an offer that encourages me to buy more of the yogurt of my choice?

You can only imagine how happy I was when, last week, a personalized offer from Petco showed up in my mailbox. It offered me $3.00 off of Innova pet food -- the food my dog and cats actually eat. I went into a rather long-winded explanation of why this very targeted offer made me so happy, boring my friends and relatives to tears. All that big data that I'd been producing was finally coming in handy.

Perhaps there was hope for marketers after all!

Then, yesterday, when it was so cold that the radio informed me it felt like 0 degrees outside, I got this email from Groupon:

The timing couldn't have been better. Here I was, huddled in my home office with a space heater, thinking about how awful it was going to be when I had to walk the dog, and Groupon was offering me ear muffs and winter coats. Magic! Now, I don't know if the folks at Groupon really knew how cold it was here in the Hartford area -- maybe it sent people in Los Angeles the same deal -- but I'd like to think Groupon knew what it was doing. There's no doubt in my mind that people all over Hartford who sat down at their desks to thaw out and then saw this email clicked through to get new gloves or a bigger parka.

So many people fear the nefarious use of the data that follows us across the internet, but I was starting to fear that it would just be used incompetently and offer me little to no value. If I'm going to leave a trail of puchase and geolocation information in my wake, I like to know that it's being used to benefit me. And this week, marketing gurus seem to being doing well.