Has Consumer Profiling Gone Too Far?


I go into the grocery store and like always they ask you if you have a ‘Tops card’ or some kind of card that will sometimes get you a discount.  Like many people they automatically assume that you receive a special savings on an item or a percentage off of your bill.  However, did you know these cards are profiling what you buy in the store, so that next time they can use that data to predict what you’ll purchase the next time you walk into the door.

Is this an advantage for the consumer?

You might think it’s a great idea.  The next time your favorite store would know exactly what you want the next time.  Probably they will have my favorite soda or cereal.  I love it when stores have a variety of cereals like Cinnamon Chex and coconut milk vanilla creamer.  Yum!

In a way it’s a wonderful idea because your favorite foods and drinks will be available the next time.  In addition, most stores would give discounts and send coupons just for using their membership card.  But, I look at it as a way into your pocket and minds to grow profits.  It’s a cheat sheet to profiling a consumer’s behavior, demographic, race, gender and age, and social activities to foreseeing your purchases.  Just think if you could profile the questions to a test or knowing the secrets to investing, almost all businesses would go bankrupt.

It’s perfectly legal and it peers into the person’s mind and soul.

It’s a Way to Understand the Consumer

Big data is huge business now days.  Everyone I know is taking advantage of this popular technology.  Most stores do it to understand their customers better and provide superior services.  Some claim if you fail to recognize your customer’s profile, you are doomed to promote your services or products.

There are many ways to profile a customer.  The one tactic that drew me was psychological profiling.

What is Psychological profiling?


It’s how a consumer’s personality shape their buying behavior.  According to a new study from the Psychological science, a publication in the Association for Psychological Science, recommends that advertisements can have more power when tailored to the personality of the consumer.

Using this tactic could mean more profits.  Marketing is a billion dollar industry and many companies are utilizing this technique every day.

A study from the Northwestern University Kellog School of Mangement, Rotman School of Management and University of Toronto Mississauga by co-authors Sonia Kang and Dr. Hirsh recruited 324 people for 5 advertisements for a cell phone each aimed towards five traits of human personality.  Those traits include: extraversion, aggreableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability and openness to experience.  Each trait tends to motivate the person in one way or another.  For instance, those who are related to aggreableness tend to value a sense of belonging, compassion, and personal gratification, while extraverts claim to value intellectual and artistic recreations.

The experiments featured advertisements of a picture of a cell phone next to a paragraph of text that was alternated according to the motivational concerns and the five personality traits.  For example, the extroverts mentioned, “With XPhone, you’ll always be where the excitement is”, compared to the the anxious group, which read, “Stay safe and secure with the XPhone.”

The group of participants were asked to rate the effectiveness of the ads and asked questions, such as “I find this advertisements to be persuasive”, “this is an effective advertisement”; and “I would purchase this product after seeing this advertisement.” Each subject was asked to provide their characteristics on the personality profile.  There were differences between each personality trait that appealed to each person.

Dr. Hirsh claimed, “We were impressed by the range of motives that can be brought to bear on a single object.” “Although the product itself was the same in each case, its subjective value changed dramatically depending on the personal motives we highlighted in the advertisement.”

Hirsh also indicates that “this research has broad implication, is for the development of tailored communication strategies across industries.  Personality based message design may be useful not only for advertisers, but also for fostering any number of outcomes, from health promotion, to civic engagement, to environmental responsibility.”

Consumer profiling is proven to help grow business profits.  Studies show it works.  I mean how many times you see a clerk demonstrating a brand new ice cream at a table you see a whole crowd trying this new flavor after a couple of people tried it.  In addition, if one person says I’m not interested then pretty soon the next person refuses to try the new ice cream.  Therefore, behavior is what drives consumers to buy what you have.

Outcomes of Using Data

Actually, using data has come a long way.  Growing up in the 1970s I don’t recall my mom using a grocery card for receiving any discounts.  You could only get coupons in the newspaper.  Special promotions weren’t widely used, however in today’s modern world we’ve gotten smarter.

Data has got its advantages and disadvantages.  In a way consumer profiling seems to know too much too soon.  It knows everything about you, for instance your name, address, birthdate, your preferences, if you have pets, children, occupation, education, status, religion and more.  I’m not just a statistic anymore.  It’s like everyone knows me before I walk into the door.  Maybe I want to be inconspicuous for once, but I can’t.  I’m trapped to being in their database.  Uh oh, is it too late?

Tell me if you had this awkward feeling of sharing too much is weird.  Did you want to start from scratch?  Do you want to move away on a deserted island?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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