Home > 2014 > Personal Finance

3 Scary Smart Ways Stores Use Your Personal Information

Advertiser Disclosure Comments 0 Comments

Retailers want to get to know you. This should come as no surprise — we’ve all seen how our Internet search history and purchases affect the online ads we see — but it’s just as important for bricks-and-mortar stores to understand their customers.

It’s all about marketing. Whether you like it or not, retailers want you to see sales, deals and new products you’ll be interested in, and the only way they’ll know your preferences is by tracking them.

“In newspapers, we would throw out these blanket ads, and there was so much waste,” said Ritchie Sayner, referencing pre-Internet marking strategies. He has worked for RMSA Retail Solutions, a retail consulting firm, for 35 years and has seen firsthand how direct marketing campaigns have evolved.

Most people know that retailers want their contact information — handing over your name, email address, ZIP code and phone number has become a somewhat standard element of the modern in-store transaction. It’s better than nothing, but a name and email address isn’t much of a customer profile. That’s the bare minimum. If they’re doing it right, a retailer is not only going to know your name and where you live, they’re going to keep track of how much money you spend, your favorite brands, your shoe size and pretty much anything else they can think of. Here’s what they use it for.

1. Clearing Out Inventory

Say you own a shoe store. You’re going through your inventory, and you notice you have three times as many women’s shoes in size seven than in any other size. Where are all the size seven customers? How can you get them to come into your store and solve your superfluous seven problem?

Simple: Send them an email. From boutiques to big-box stores, retailers are doing their best to build robust customer profiles so they can reach a specific group of shoppers when necessary. Sure, you could send an email to all the women on your mailing list, promoting a big weekend shoe sale, but the size nine ladies won’t be too pleased when they show up and all the great shoes are only available in sevens.

“They’re going to keep track of you by ‘She’s a size four, she buys this particular line,'” Sayner said. “If you buy on sale or if you buy at full price — they have more information about you than you’d probably like them to.”

2. Making You Feel Loved

Happy birthday! Enjoy a free cup of coffee. It’s your anniversary? Here’s a coupon for two meals at the price of one! Remember that time you bought something from us last year? It’s that time of year again! Here’s 30% off for nothing in particular — we miss you!

You may not love the idea of a company keeping a ton of information on you, but man, you love getting free stuff on your birthday. It’s like that free birthday cookie makes up for the hundreds of emails that business sends you every other day of the year. Retailers want details on who you are so they can appropriately reward you with freebies and discounts, in exchange for your loyalty.

3. Classifying You

It can be very difficult for a salesperson to get you to share your information — just think of how many times you’ve declined to give the cashier your email address when checking out.

“It’s really hard to do,” said Jason Becker, chief operating officer at RICS Software, a point-of-sale platform. “If you’re going to ask for a customer’s information, you have to give a good reason for why.”

That requires establishing a relationship. The salesperson has to treat you well and earn your trust. At the end, he or she can use your interaction to fill out a customer profile.

It’s funny, because for all the people skills it may require to develop the profile, the way it’s used is quite robotic. You’re no longer Jane who likes running, you’re a 35-year-old female marathoner who spends $300 on athletic gear every three months and replaces her running shoes every February.

“Most softwares also enable the retailer to classify that customer into a cohort, classify that type of runner into what type of runner or athlete that person is,” Becker said, speaking in general about POS systems. “It enables them (retailers) to market more effectively.”

A lot of that information is populated through loyalty programs or entered manually by the sales person, especially if you’re in a smaller store. Larger retailers may generate a customer profile with the information it captures when you swipe a credit card. It happens in many ways, through software of various sophistication levels, but you can confidently assume the stores you frequent have a sort of dossier on you.

For many consumers, that dossier is terrifying because of the slew of retail data breaches that happened in 2014. After having their credit cards compromised, their email addresses stolen and even their passwords cracked, it can be hard to trust a retailer, but it all comes down to what you’re comfortable giving up for a deal.

More Money-Saving Reads:

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team