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Security & privacy

Your grocery store knows a lot about you – see the surprising stats

Protecting your personal information has become a hot topic for discussion after WhatsApp updated its terms and conditions. The Facebook-owned service is definitely not the only (or the last) company to go after who you contact and how.

While WhatsApp might have delayed its intended data sharing with Facebook, other companies are clamoring for information on you. And we’re not talking about the usual suspects like social media services or messaging apps.

Your grocery store has a vested interest in what you buy and how you pay for it. But what information does the local grocer have on you, and why do they need it? It’s more than you think, and it comes down to marketing and sales.

How do they get your data?

The most common way grocery stores get a wealth of your personal information is through a loyalty card or program. You willingly provide the store with everything from your address and telephone number to where you work and possibly some interests.

And the data collection doesn’t end there. Every time that you shop, you are supplying the store with more information.

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Each swipe of your loyalty card tells the store what you bought and how you’re paying for the items. Now the store knows which cereal brand you like, if you drink almond or soy milk and every other choice you make while shopping. The tradeoff for the discounts you receive is the store can target specific products or coupons to you.

While a loyalty program isn’t problematic, it can become an issue if the store suffers a data breach. This is exactly what happened to CVS in 2017 when over 6,000 customer’s HIV status was leaked. Another incident in 2020 caused the pharmacy to lose the personal information of over 21,000 patients.

It’s not only about the loyalty card

One of the biggest offenders in retaining your personal information is online stores. From retail giants like Walmart to smaller shops, your data is being tracked and stored.

Often you need to create an account to shop online, and your purchasing habits are used to target products to your needs. Even if you don’t create an account, your data is tied to your device’s IP address in some extreme cases.

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Research by mackeeper revealed just how much information a shop could gather on you. And you don’t even have to provide the store with your name for them to build a complete profile on you.

Analyzing several different shopping baskets, mackeeper detailed how innocent purchases of shampoo, baby formula and gardening items can give your game away.

Loyalty cards are revealing your secrets

Taking a look at one such basket, a customer’s purchase of gardening items reveals that she has access to vegetation or an outdoor area and is interested in horticulture.

Loyalty card personal data
(Source: mackeeper)

“A female shopper has bought tampons, pads, diapers, and chocolates. Her supermarket now knows when her menstrual cycle starts, so in a month’s time can offer her a discount on sanitary products. They’ll also give her some coupons for kids’ products,” mackeeper explains.

The store will note that the purchase was made on a weekday morning from the shopping basket above. This can indicate the person shops before going to work. The purchase was also made at an expensive branch, possibly indicating an affluent shopper.

Loyalty card personal data
(Source: mackeeper)

Other purchases like the beard trimmer can indicate the shopper is male, DIY items can point towards a hobby or profession and ethnic food items provide the store with ethnicity.

“From his repeat purchase of razors, the supermarket knows he has facial hair so they’ll offer a coupon on ‘buy one get one free’ to encourage repeat shopping. Also, they’ve discovered his body type from the clothes he purchases and the fact he or his family are gluten intolerant – his food shop is a major giveaway,” mackeeper reveals.

The trade-off

Shops and retail stores are in the business of making money, and customers love discounts and specials. You are essentially trading your personal information and shopping habits for reduced prices or occasional free items.

After making 10 purchases with Dunkin Donuts’ loyalty card, customers can claim a free beverage. How successful have Dunkin Donuts’ perks been? It signed up 57 million customers in less than 3 years. If it’s your birthday, you will also receive a free drink.

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Even the smallest of actions can tell a retailer more about you than you might realize.

“Whether you’re a loyalty card shopper or pay with cash or card, grocery stores know how to build your profile. The data they gather helps them promote relevant items to you both in-store and online, letting them appeal directly to your interests,” mackeeper concludes.

So the next time you are shown products that compliment a recent purchase, you will know where the information came from. The store’s marketing algorithm is working in overdrive to sell you products you want through the information you willingly provide them.

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