, the discount department store chain, has a secret. They know what you’re going to buy before you do.

To be fair, it’s not really a secret anymore. And Target isn’t the only retailer with this kind of prescience; they just happen to be better at it than anybody else today. It’s called predictive analytics.

Based on your experiences as a Target shopper, the retailer knows what you like to buy, when you like to buy it, where you live, what credit cards you carry, etc.

But they take that even a step further: They analyze buying behavior to determine what shoppers will do in the future. For example, if it’s early June and you’re buying kids’ summer clothes, name tags, and sunscreen, it’s very likely you’re getting ready to send your kids to summer camp. That means that in August, special offers on back-to-school stuff will be meaningful for you. And that, in turn, will bring you back to Target.

There are some who might suggest that this marketing approach is invasive, that our purchasing patterns and habits should not be marketing fodder for retailers. But as Target executives have said, “It’s the nature of retail competition today. The more you know about your customers, the better chance you have to retain them.”

Our industry certainly feels this acutely. Bigger retailers and online retailers, who are in a position to capitalize on the customer intelligence they harvest, have a better chance of keeping those customers coming back. For the independent optical person, that’s a daunting realization.

But there’s no reason the independent cannot play this game, and possibly even play it better. If one has the patience and forethought to track customer purchases, analyze them for ongoing preference trends, and tie those purchases back to generalized profiles of the buyers, then one can predict what stimulus will bring those customers back. If, for example, Mrs. Obama (or if you prefer, Mrs. Romney) has been a consistent purchaser of acetate eyewear in darker colors with a modified cat-eye shape, why not drop her a note to let her know that you just got a new collection in that suits her preferences? And why not offer her a special incentive to purchase both ophthalmics and polarized suns from the new collection at a packaged price reserved “just for her?”

Target may be an innovator in this competitive arena of customer data mining, but their methods are by no means the last word on the subject. Already, Internet retailers within every space are doing that, and more.

This practice may seem a little insidious, even a bit cynical. But retail marketing with deep customer intelligence will be the essential weapon of both the near and long term.

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