How does Target know I'm pregnant?

This post was written a week after my positive pregnancy test. I'm now nine weeks along (with twins!) and since Target knows, why shouldn't you? Get caught up here and here.

Three parties know my period is late: me, my husband, and Target. Yesterday, I purchased a winter maternity coat at an end-of-season clearance sale online (I plan ahead!) so technically the drones handling orders for the Destination Maternity Corporation brands know that a Jenna Karvunidis in Illinois has purchased maternity apparel, but how did Target get involved? Why did they just send me an invitation to make a baby registry? HOW DOES TARGET KNOW I'M PREGNANT?

While it's technically true that I am pregnant, my baby would fit inside this letter o and looks like this right now:

Screen Shot 2013-03-15 at 5.34.27 PM

It's not like it's ready to wear a diaper - my precious has a tail. It has no feet to festoon with mass-produced baby shoes, no mouth from which to hurl milky vomit onto a twee towel manufactured in China. My baby is useless to Target, so why do they care and more importantly, how does Target glean the information that there's a fetus among us anyway?

I suppose I did drive to Target with my sister-in-law yesterday but didn't buy anything suspicious - a jug of milk and a sparkley leperchaun hat from the dollar bin (judge!). It's not like I was loading up on pickles and ice cream and stool softener. The pregnancy test I was embarrassed to buy last week wasn't even from Target. No, that impromptu foray into the Judgement Of Too Many Kids was at Walgreens, where I hobbled in with Alfalfa hair and two screaming, sleep-deprived kids under my arms because once I had the suspicion, a pregnancy test purchase could not wait until after nap time. ("How many damn kids are you going to have lady?" - everyone's brain in the store).

So how did Target find out?

I typed "How does Target kn-" and Google filled in the rest, "-ow I'm pregnant?" What is this? AN INQUISITION? How do Google and Target know I've got, like, four multiplying cells buried discreetly in my abdomen? Did they send a spider into my bedroom to witness that hazy Saturday night of the blessed event? Did they creep into my cervix at the moment of conception and start slapping bar codes on my social security files? Zygote! Fire sale on Zygote accoutrements! Aisle VAGINA!

My Google search lead me to an article in the NY Times, "How Companies Learn Your Secrets". Or, "How Target Gets Up In your Biznasty".

Oh really? Let's.

"Andrew Pole had just started working as a statistician for Target in 2002, when two colleagues from the marketing department stopped by his desk to ask an odd question: 'If we wanted to figure out if a customer is pregnant, even if she didn’t want us to know, can you do that?'

Pole has a master’s degree in statistics and another in economics, and has been obsessed with the intersection of data and human behavior most of his life. [...] 'The stereotype of a math nerd is true,” he told me when I spoke with him last year. “I kind of like going out and evangelizing analytics.'”


In other words, Target hired a mega geek to stalk ladies' privates. No way does that seem creepy. Nope.

Almost every major retailer, from grocery chains to investment banks to the U.S. Postal Service, has a “predictive analytics” department devoted to understanding not just consumers’ shopping habits but also their personal habits, so as to more efficiently market to them. “But Target has always been one of the smartest at this,” says Eric Siegel, a consultant and the chairman of a conference called Predictive Analytics World.


Um, smart? Sorry, but it doesn't take sheer brilliance to figure out a woman who just made a purchase from Motherhood might be pregnant. They act like it took some mad genius in a room with whizzy dials and green test tubes to come to the glorious conclusion that a lady buying maternity pants might have a preggo eggo. The creepy thing is them knowing that. It's like a "psychic" ex who "guesses" you're on vacation by stalking your house.

"The desire to collect information on customers is not new for Target or any other large retailer, of course. For decades, Target has collected vast amounts of data on every person who regularly walks into one of its stores. Whenever possible, Target assigns each shopper a unique code — known internally as the Guest ID number — that keeps tabs on everything they buy."

Sure, you can keep track of the things I buy at your store, but how do you reach your gnarly claws into what I'm buying at Walgreens? Why is my maternity purchase from an unaffiliated company your beeswax, Target Retailer??

"[Pole observed] how shopping habits changed as a woman approached her due date, which women on the registry had willingly disclosed. He ran test after test, analyzing the data, and before long some useful patterns emerged. Lotions, for example. Lots of people buy lotion, but one of Pole’s colleagues noticed that women on the baby registry were buying larger quantities of unscented lotion around the beginning of their second trimester. Another analyst noted that sometime in the first 20 weeks, pregnant women loaded up on supplements like calcium, magnesium and zinc. Many shoppers purchase soap and cotton balls, but when someone suddenly starts buying lots of scent-free soap and extra-big bags of cotton balls, in addition to hand sanitizers and washcloths, it signals they could be getting close to their delivery date.

As Pole’s computers crawled through the data, he was able to identify 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."


All of this is a complete load of crap. It's Target's PR move to cover-up their unscrupulous spy efforts, such as perhaps monitoring customers' other credit cards and/or online activity outside of the Target website and/or purchasing customers' spending history from other retailers and/or hiring aliens to prob customers' brains while they sleep. I have bought zero of the "pregnancy prediction" products from Target recently. I didn't buy any damn lotion or cotton balls, people. This is BS. I bought a maternity coat FROM A DIFFERENT STORE.

The one and only way Target could know about the beloved cyclops grain of rice tucked in my nethers is by spying on that maternity purchase I made from Motherhood dot com earlier. Do they think lady brains are so stupid to believe Target figured out a master theorem of cotton balls and lotions that magically predicts if someone is pregnant? Target is like that psychic at the fair who guesses you're missing money by rifling through your purse. Real slick, Target!

Continuing with the NY Times article . . .


“Mathematicians are suddenly sexy.”


Bullshit. They have always been sexy.


Target can buy data about your ethnicity, job history, the magazines you read, if you’ve ever declared bankruptcy or got divorced, the year you bought (or lost) your house, where you went to college, what kinds of topics you talk about online, whether you prefer certain brands of coffee, paper towels, cereal or applesauce, your political leanings, reading habits, charitable giving and the number of cars you own. (In a statement, Target declined to identify what demographic information it collects or purchases.)


Wait, what was that again? Target can buy data about your everything and Target declined to identify what information it "purchases" - now we're cooking with gas!

Target knows I'm pregnant because they bought my information from another retailer and they lie by saying they invented a magic formula tied to the amount of lotion and cotton balls women buy. Liar lie faces!


"At which point someone asked an important question: How are women going to react when they figure out how much Target knows?"


They're going to write ragey blog posts about Target. And then they're probably going to become preppers and live off the grid with illegal guns and dogs and learn how to can beans they grew from the earth. Just kidding. I'm probably going to run to Target for an Icee and some cotton balls.

Hey, I have a coupon.


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