Your habit-driven brain is a retailer’s paradise

Even though I think supermarkets are pretty fun (one of the best places to go if you’ve just arrived in a foreign country, I find) maybe Tracey Deutsch is on to something when she invokes the image of The Stepford Wives and notes the film’s use of the supermarket as “a setting for soul-deadening passivity.” Turns out, according to the New York Times and the scientists who are paid to figure out what goes on in our brains as we shop, the answer is not much. Habits, rather than conscious decisions, shape 45% of our everyday choices. As we learn how to do something, our mental activity decreases; our brains try to convert sequences of actions into automatic routines in order to save energy.

Most of what we do when we shop is habit-driven. Retailers work to pinpoint the moments in our lives when our buying habits are disrupted and can most easily be reshaped: marriage, divorce, having babies. Target can tell you are in your second trimester based on what you are buying (unscented lotion?). And it is moments like this when you are most vulnerable to disruption to your shopping habits. If Target knows you are pregnant, it knows it should send you cues, like coupons, to get you to buy things you ordinarily (habitually) would not associate with Target, like groceries and toys, if all you normally buy there are cleaning products and toiletries. Target’s defense for this neat/creepy thing it is getting good at?

“Our mission is to make Target the preferred shopping destination for our guests by delivering outstanding value, continuous innovation and exceptional guest experience,” the company wrote in a statement. “We’ve developed a number of research tools that allow us to gain insights into trends and preferences within different demographic segments of our guest population.”

Interesting that it is couched in terms of customer demand and desire. Building a housewife’s (rather than a retailer’s) paradise? As Andrew Pole, the analyst responsible for the pregnancy predictor, says, “We’ll be sending you coupons for things you want before you even know you want them.”

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