Using data to predict

February 23rd, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Brian Gaynor wrote in the NZ Herald:

Target, the huge American discount retailer, has developed a sophisticated software programme that can determine when a woman is pregnant because purchasing shows that women change their shopping behaviour when this occurs.

The New York Times Magazine tells the story of a man who went to a Target store in Minneapolis and criticised the store manager because his daughter was being bombarded with pregnancy-related coupons.

“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 man asked.

The manager apologised and called the father a few days later to apologise again.

This time he received a much more subdued response and was told, “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of, she’s due in August”.

That’s impressive targeting. But that is minor compared to what Amazon is looking at:

Move over, drone delivery robots, there’s a new way to cut delivery times. It’s unique, it’s exciting and it’s the talk of the etail town.

It’s telepathy.

All-seeing, all-knowing was recently granted a patent for anticipatory shipping – basically sending you stuff before you even order it. In essence, Amazon thinks it knows you better than you know yourself. The sad thing is that this may well be true.

Not relying completely on unworldly powers, this kind of technological sixth sense comes courtesy of advanced analytics. The masses of data Amazon collects – think order history, basket contents, wish lists and even how long cursers hover over particular items – could be used to identify your heart’s desire, even though you might not know what that is yet. Your anticipated must-have item could then wing its way to you, only to land on your doormat mere moments after you’ve sealed the inevitable deal. 

Anticipatory shipping! There’s a risk you won’t order the item and hence won’t pay for it. But if they get it right, then you’ll get stuff you really want, even quicker.

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14 Responses to “Using data to predict”

  1. tas (625 comments) says:

    Living in the US, ordering from Amazon is so convenient I’ll even get food from them. It shows up at your door in 2-3 days.

    I can imagine that if you order the same thing from the month after month, they can identify that and, in essence, automatically subscribe you. But I can’t imagine how they’ll handle it if you change your mind.

    Maybe they’ll set it up as a loyalty system – you get free stuff from them occaisionally.

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  2. Azeraph (604 comments) says:

    That all depends on whether you like all your activity monitored, it means everything. I’ve been looking into spambots that spam people that have paid to get your number off telecom. That’s right! Telecom sells your numbers whether they are private or not. Private is supposed to mean private, you are not morally obligated to divulge any personal detail to any corporation or information system if you have not broken any law unless you agree before hand.

    People these days have adopted it as a moral issue, they know it’s wrong but feel it’s right. I guess most people are born suckers.

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  3. lazza (381 comments) says:

    I got an unsolicited Blow Up Doll. Works beaut.

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  4. gravedodger (1,566 comments) says:

    Aha was the little girl still “intact” or are we part of a miracle?

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  5. Yoza (1,872 comments) says:

    None of this is new. Advertising agencies have been using psychological forms of social engineering to manipulate people for decades. The only difference here is the ability of the retailer to more effectively control the behaviour of specifically targeted consumer groups down to the level of the individual.

    It is not much of a stretch to suggest these massive online entities would also be motivated to manipulate people’s political thought through carefully tailored campaigning online. The subliminal messages of the past could be made to look crude by comparison with what could be achieved through the internet.

    The threat of becoming a zombie through being infected by the bite of another zombie is unfounded, as the easiest way to zombification is via targeted online marketing campaigns. Soon the West will be completely reduced to vast swathes of consumer zombies, trudging mindlessly about the place thinking of nothing but their next purchase and their growing mounds of unpayable debt.

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  6. Southern Raider (1,829 comments) says:

    WiFi is great for this. Large retailers can triangulate where you spend most of your time in a shop and then proactively send you vouchers etc for that department.

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  7. Viking2 (11,467 comments) says:

    lazza (264 comments) says:
    February 23rd, 2014 at 10:18 am

    I got an unsolicited Blow Up Doll. Works beaut. :lol:

    What does it cost per use?? :lol:

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  8. Viking2 (11,467 comments) says:

    They’d be fucked if they are waitin for me.
    I never buy fuck all from them.

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  9. peterwn (3,271 comments) says:

    There is a specialist out of print book I would like to get hold of. An Amazon associate has a second hand copy for USD160 but there is sales resistance on my part. Suppose one day it might just turn up on my doorstep.

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  10. MT_Tinman (3,183 comments) says:

    April seems to be starting early this year.

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  11. Camryn (543 comments) says:

    Amazon anticipatory shipping isn’t actually making predictions about specific individuals. It’s about being able to finalize parcel addressing when the parcel is already en route. So, the algorithm makes a prediction that, collectively, San Francisco will order 10 of an item in the next few days and dispatches them in that direction. When the actual orders are made, the parcels’ addresses are updated to specific individual addresses. Thus, Amazon hasn’t made a prediction about individual customers but rather about an aggregation of customers. The most impressive element is actually the logistics element provided by, I assume, UPS and/or Fedex.

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  12. Michael (909 comments) says:

    Amazon shows the books I might want to buy on my Tablet everytime I log into Kindle. Not once have they got it right, nothing they display interests me. I presume that I’m an outlier.

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  13. jcuk (684 comments) says:

    I am amused at what Amazon shows me reflecting my interests of last year but not current :)

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  14. Ben Dover (526 comments) says:

    Wow they can predict who is pregnant

    I bet they know who all the W a n k e r s are

    be handy for finding suitable political candidates

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