What companies know about your shopping habits

Target store on University Avenue in St. Paul.
Target store on University Avenue in St. Paul.
MPR News Photo / Nikki Tundel

Your shopping habits are the result of deeply ingrained patterns--and figuring out those patterns and getting ahead of them is "gold" to America's business giants.

Journalist Charles Duhigg explains how companies like Target penetrate those patterns in a new book, titled "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life & Business."

"Companies are very, very good -- better than consumers themselves -- at knowing what consumers are actually craving," Duhigg said on Fresh Air.

Duhigg gives a telling example of Target's system in his New York Times piece:

A man walked into a Target outside Minneapolis and demanded to see the manager. He was clutching coupons that had been sent to his daughter, and he was angry, according to an employee who participated in the conversation.

"My daughter got this in the mail!" he said. "She's still in high school, and you're sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?"

The manager didn't have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man's daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.

On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. "I had a talk with my daughter," he said. "It turns out there's been some activities in my house I haven't been completely aware of. She's due in August. I owe you an apology."

Duhigg joined The Daily Circuit to talk about his book and explain what companies know about you.

Video: How to break habits


Consumers are not that upset about the intrusion by businesses.

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