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At Macy’s, Big Brother Is Watching You

As stores look for new ways to boost sales, some are taking Big Brother tactics to a whole new level. First in line is Macy’s. During the past few weeks, thousands of customers received catalogs with clothing and accessories tailored to their gender, age and previous purchases.

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Unsurprisingly, many customers who receive these catalogs have a Macy’s credit card.

The catalogs help Macy’s customers browse products they’re far more likely to be interested in buying. A single female in her 30s, for example, will now receive a catalog with clothing, shoes and handbags just for her as opposed to one filled with pages of baby clothing.

“They know what you’re buying, and boy is it creepy,” says Brian Sozzi, a retail analyst at Wall Street Strategies. He says more stores are likely to follow suit, and they may also turn to records like bridal or baby registries to collect customer information.

The catalogs – which also include guides for head-to-toe looks for work, play and weekend getaways – are intended to entice customers to spend more, but they also provide a timely reminder to customers that they’re being watched more closely than ever before.

Sozzi says this new marketing tactic helps stores keep costs down: when they identify the products loyal customers purchase, they’re less likely to discount them as often, and they can keep inventory costs down by ordering fewer products that aren’t as much in demand.

A Macy’s spokesman says the studies help tailor its direct mail to customers. “So customers who shop frequently for men’s apparel, for example, will see more menswear in their catalog, along with a smaller or no presence of other categories,” he says.

And, for the consumer, it means being followed around the store as you shop.


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  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.