Predictive Analytics

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My first job was as a cashier at a supermarket (Publix fans, hollar!).  One of my favorite aspects of the job was checking out someone’s purchases and trying to deduce something about their life.  For example:  someone buys a ton of plastic silverware, paper plates, soda, chips, and hamburgers – they’re having a party!  Occasionally, the purchases were very funny, like:  a woman buys chocolate, tampons, and a gossip magazine… or a man buys condoms and flowers.  


Did you know that companies use complex algorithms to hypothesize what’s going on in your life and what purchases you are likely to make next?  It’s called predictive analytics.  There’s a really interesting article in the New York Times about how Target does this.  The goal, basically, is to use purchases to predict when a consumer’s life is in flux (marriage, child, moving into a new home) because that’s when they are most likely to try new products and switch brands. 


Anyway, I had to laugh because I could only guess what Amazon was thinking when I bought the following items:


Diapers – Well, this is an obvious one.  I have a baby!


Blackout Curtains – I have a baby and am trying to get him to sleep.  Amazon should start to bombard me with ads for coffee makers and under-eye concealer in 3… 2… 1.


And an anti-bark citronella spray collar.  I have a baby, am trying to get them to sleep, and I own a very cute and barky dog that is interfering with the process.


Speaking of those blackout curtains, they are pretty awesome!  I think Henry will nap better during the day if he’s in a dark, cozy nursery (as opposed to the pack ‘n play in the master bedroom, which has four windows and no curtains).  I  need to extend the curtain rod a bit so the sun can’t peek around the edges, but man oh man – it is so much darker in there now.  It feels like a little hotel.


Just looking at that picture makes me want to go to sleep.


Speaking of habit formation and behavioral cues, do you think I can motivate myself to get in the car, drive the gym, and swim 1,000 laps simply by pulling on my bathing suit?  Here’s to hoping.  In the very least, it is extremely awkward to lounge around on the couch in a cap and goggles.



  • Victoria (District Chocoholic) September 28, 2012, 12:52 pm

    If you do go and get in the car and swim 1000 laps, I will bow to you.

  • Carrie @ Fitness and Frozen Grapes September 28, 2012, 12:59 pm

    I bet this predictive analytics concept extends to Facebook, too. When I log on, advertisements for running and triathlon gear always pop up! I’ve also gotten writing and personal training ones. Facebook knows me so well … it’s actually a little creepy, lol.

    • Amber @ Busy, Bold, Blessed September 28, 2012, 1:59 pm

      Oh yeah… my FB ads are straight on, they know exactly what I want! Super creepy indeed.

  • Megan September 28, 2012, 1:06 pm

    Publix!! My favorite grocery store 🙂

  • SaraJoan September 28, 2012, 1:07 pm

    I don’t want to be a downer, so I hope this comment isn’t. One of the pieces of advise I received when our first was new that I have been most grateful for was to not do daytime naps in complete dark and silence. Babies get used to the environment being that way and then will wake at the slightest noise or light.

    My husband used to listen to bagpipe music (literally!) and vacuum while the kids slept during the day — he’s the one at home with them, I’m the one in the office in our family (fyi). My brother and sister-in-law went the dark and silent nap-time route and it’s made traveling/visiting extremely challenging, since the kids won’t sleep when out of their controlled home environment. Our four have some trouble napping away from home because of being off-schedule, etc, but they will nap in the car or on the couch in a sort of quiet but not silent room.

    On the other hand, we do have homemade blackout curtains in the bedrooms for nighttime sleeping — especially helpful in the summer when it doesn’t get dark till way late! 🙂

    • Caitlin September 28, 2012, 2:14 pm

      Haha that is so true.

      • Megan September 28, 2012, 4:21 pm

        We have blackout curtains in the nursery… (how old can your kid be when it’s no longer a nursery?) but she naps in my bed with no curtains. We had to get the curtains when it was still light out at bedtime!

  • Jenn September 28, 2012, 1:10 pm

    Force exercise. Bike EVERYWHERE like I do 🙂 You’ll be in bathing suit shape pretty fast because you’ve always been fit, so don’t worry there 🙂

  • Katie @ Peace Love & Oats September 28, 2012, 1:11 pm

    I’ve noticed that the ads that pop up tend to correlate with what I purchase or search for. Also, I always laugh at myself because somehow I end up buying tampons and chocolate at the same time…

  • Courtney @ Journey of a Dreamer September 28, 2012, 1:15 pm

    I read an article awhile back on this with Target… a dad got mad because his teen daughter kept getting baby coupons and made a fuss about it, turns out she was pregnant and target knew before her or her father did! Weird.

    • Melissa September 28, 2012, 6:47 pm

      I kept getting formula samples and coupons in the mail over a period of several months last year. I kept joking that maybe I was pregnant and just didn’t know it yet. (I’m not.) I got diaper and formula stuff in the mail when I actually was pregnant or had a baby, but my “baby” is now seven. I don’t know what triggered all those more recent mailings.

  • Julie (A Case of the Runs) September 28, 2012, 1:17 pm

    I need one of those blackout curtains… I’m one of those people who wakes up at any sign of light… makes sleeping in really hard no matter how late I sleep the night before.

  • Katie Heddleston September 28, 2012, 1:17 pm

    Target is so dead on too – we got a bunch of coupons recently that were stuff we actually use 🙂

  • Rach @ Mrs-Adventure September 28, 2012, 1:30 pm

    Our little one is 6 weeks today we’ve been struggling with a routine as well. Maybe blackout curtains need to make it on our list! I read the Sleep Whisperer after your post and have to say I agree with you, the breastfeeding section wasn’t helpful at all to us but man the rest of the book was fantastic!

    And now for a question… where did you find your dog nightlight for Henry’s nursery. Do you leave it on all night or turn it on as needed? We have a lamp in our nursery but if I turn it on it seems to wake her up (read: I do not get any more sleep).



    • Caitlin September 28, 2012, 2:13 pm

      Here’s the night light! Henry sleeps in total darkness at night! We just leave the night light on for reading, etc.

      Yay for Baby Whisperer!

  • kelley September 28, 2012, 1:31 pm

    You will love the blackout curtaons! Works for us too!

  • BW September 28, 2012, 1:36 pm

    I’d love to hear your review on the anti-bark collar. We’ve been considering purchasing the citronella spray collar too, but I’m not entirely convinced it will deter my persistent pup.

    • Alexis September 28, 2012, 3:48 pm

      We’re huge fans of the citronella collar! Worked wonders for us. I’m glad you’re trying it out Caitlin – let us know how it goes!

  • Aja September 28, 2012, 1:49 pm

    I’ve heard of this before. I think it’s really interesting.
    My sister bought blackout curtains for her kids and it worked wonders.

  • Leslie September 28, 2012, 1:51 pm

    I should put on my swim gear now too. I’m scheduled for a swim but have been blog reading and stalling. I’m laughing at the thought of you in your swimsuit, cap and goggles napping instead of swimming. I’m going to go swim now. I hope you make it there today too.

  • Ellen @ Wannabe Health Nut September 28, 2012, 1:53 pm

    Oh man I need a blackout blanket! Genius. And flowers + condoms..too funny!

  • Heather September 28, 2012, 2:01 pm

    I love going to a hotel with black out curtains, then when I take a nap I don’t feel “woken up” b/c my brain says it’s daylight outside. Hope they work!

  • Ellie @ September 28, 2012, 2:03 pm

    Oh my goodness! I had to convince myself that cashiers didn’t do this and now I know they do… Online shopping all the way!

    Although admittedly, I do this to other shoppers (by looking in their grocery cart) so how on earth could I convince myself that the cashiers didn’t do it too. Maybe I was just hopeful….

    Now you’re probably wondering what kind of things I’m buying…. haha!

  • Amanda September 28, 2012, 2:08 pm

    Those predictive analytics are so weird. We talked about them in a PR class I took last semester. I’ve randomly stopped in to Target to get vitamins and cheap movies, and they’ve emailed me coupons for strollers and stuff about wedding registries. Yeah. Not getting married, and I have no use for a stroller, haha!

  • Lori September 28, 2012, 2:23 pm

    I forgot how adorable your nursery is! I just love it!!! I would love to take an afternoon nap there.

  • Alexandra September 28, 2012, 2:31 pm

    Woo Publix!! I’m a Florida gal so thats all we have around here haha Go get your swim on!!

  • Annette@FitnessPerks September 28, 2012, 2:33 pm

    Yep–my husband told me about this (he’s an economist & computer whiz)–so I totally know that stuff popping up at me is because of what I bought. Hah.

    I WANT some blackout curtains for us. Gonna check out amazon this weekend.

    ANd I had to laugh. At the picture of you lounging around in swimsuit & goggles. bahahaha. I am sure you’ll get to the gym no problem 😉

  • Katie @ Talk Less, Say More September 28, 2012, 2:47 pm

    If Henry doesn’t want to nap in that room, just let me know because it sure looks awfully cozy to me! 😉

  • Kt September 28, 2012, 2:49 pm

    Yay citronella bark collar. We have that one for our dog… It hasn’t really decreased his barking generally, but at least he has learned to not bark when he is wearing the collar. Which is sometimes all you need, just a little quiet time! Careful about making loud noises around the collar, we have set it off accidentally once or twice (like from yelling at tv during sports) and feel so bad for confusing the puppy.

  • Angie All The Way September 28, 2012, 3:05 pm

    Blackout = necessity, definitely!

    I resorted to those citronella bark collars for the exact same reason. Sadly, it was only a temporary fix and after she figure out the whole thing and the chamber emptied, she figured that a little lemon spritz wasn’t so bad and she barked the thing empty if she was outside on her leash! It’s a breed thing 🙁

  • sonia the mexigarian September 28, 2012, 3:10 pm

    So you like the black out curtain. I have been given the responsibility in finding one for our living room and I can’t find one that i like. they all look so. . . .ugly and boring. I want something fun and bright to counteract the heaviness of it’s blackout power. How is yours? Is it okay to look at?

  • Kerry September 28, 2012, 3:21 pm

    Haha…I’ve been a competitive swimmer for 15 years. It’s completely normal for my roommates to come home and find me laying on the couch in a Speedo watching TV and have all of my wet gear hanging everywhere.

  • Katie September 28, 2012, 3:27 pm

    MY husband works for a major nationwide retailer and he is always telling me about all the crazy stuff they (and all the other big ones) know about each customer. I think it’s kind of creepy! 😉

  • Laura September 28, 2012, 4:17 pm

    That doggie nightlight makes me smile! How stinkin’ cute!

  • Megan September 28, 2012, 4:24 pm

    Fb totally does it! Keeps trying to get me to get my CNM degree, while buying clothes for my kids…lol. One thing at a time, please!

  • Whitney @ Whit Likes Fits September 28, 2012, 4:28 pm

    I have that citronella collar for our dog. Works great.

  • Margaret September 28, 2012, 4:30 pm

    It’s amusing to shop on Amazon on my parents’ computer, since it has two people regularly contributing to it, the suggested items are quite varied. I bet we also confuse Fred Meyer and Safeway – my sister and I use our parents’ phone number for the club/discount cards, so they’re getting data for three households in three cities in two states. FM prints coupons with your receipt, and they’re definitely nothing I would buy, but I can tell they’re probably things my parents bought (or related to things they buy).

  • lynne @lgsmash September 28, 2012, 5:26 pm

    I’ve read that about Target/Predictive Analytics before – which is why I have to chuckle to myself when the started sending diaper/kid coupons and ads in our mail. I can’t imagine what we bought that made them think we have or are soon to have kids!

  • Karen @ Runner Girl Eats September 28, 2012, 5:36 pm

    First of all, I am way jealous of Henry’s black out curtains. Secondly, I think it is very ‘big brothery’ how much stores can figure out about me just from my afternoon grocery store stop! My last stop I only bought razors and olive oil, I can only imagine what they came up with for that purchase lol

  • Lindsey Gail September 28, 2012, 5:38 pm

    You have got to read Charles Duhigg’s book (the guy who wrote that article), The Power of Habit. Absolutely awesome book- you know, in all of your free time. =)

  • Alexis September 28, 2012, 6:11 pm

    I dropped by here for a quick break from work after finishing a blog post about predictive analytics (I work for a major tech company, and the product I focus on is ALL ABOUT ANALYTICS) so I had a “wah?!?” moment when I read your header! 😉

    I’d love to know what you guys think about the citronella collar — we’ve been thinking about getting one for our dog, as the spray-water-when-barking trick is losing its effectiveness!

  • Stacia September 28, 2012, 6:26 pm

    I once saw a guy buying just two things- a pregnancy test and condoms. It made my day.

  • Alicia Wynn September 28, 2012, 6:48 pm

    You may have already addressed this, and if so, I apologize, but where did you get that adorable dachshund light in Henry’s room? We have 2 weiner dogs and it would look great in my 2-year-old’s room! Thanks!

  • Helena September 28, 2012, 7:21 pm

    Heh. I once saw a guy go through the checkout with: a bunch of flowers, a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, a huge box of condoms, and…one parsnip.

    I wouldn’t have giggled if it hadn’t been for the parsnip. (I mean, seriously…the mind boggles.)

  • Sarah @ Yogi in Action September 28, 2012, 7:38 pm

    haha I’m totally picturing you watching a movie in a bathing suit and cap and googles. Hope you made it to the pool!

  • Kim September 28, 2012, 8:04 pm

    1000 laps will take some major motivation;)

  • Amanda @ Diary of a Semi-Health Nut September 28, 2012, 8:23 pm

    Haha I use blackout curtains and LOVE them. I’ve had random job hours (read: random sleep hours) for the past few years so they are very helpful when I’m going to bed so early that it’s sunny out still and for when I go to sleep so late the sun wakes me too early. (obviously, right?)

    Amazon always gets me in the suggested items department! Target usually gives me a coupon for something I just bought but a different brand…so not that helpful since I just bought it and I like a different brand lol!

  • Amanda September 28, 2012, 8:30 pm

    I’d be lost with out blackout curtains. My fiancé and i work night shift and we’d never sleep if it wasn’t for them! They also keep the room cooler, bonus!

  • Beks September 28, 2012, 8:33 pm

    My first long-term job was a cashier at HyVee. I totally did the same thing. The guys buying condoms made me laugh the most. They were afraid to buy from a girl.

  • Sara September 28, 2012, 8:34 pm

    Someone may have already said this–but Target and Walmart (and I’m sure other places) sell these special curtain rod things that curve so light can’t peek around.

  • Jen September 28, 2012, 8:36 pm

    The suggestion I always heard was to use tinfoil on the windows, at least you can try it around the edges where light may still get in. I know it sounds funny but a few Mom’s I know swear by it. I guess when you are sleep deprived you will try anything. 🙂

  • Emily @ Perfection Isn't Happy September 28, 2012, 8:38 pm

    My husband and I bought darkening curtains for our bedroom, and they are so nice for weekends when we want to sleep in!

  • Jessica September 28, 2012, 10:00 pm

    I feel like we are living parallel lives. I went through everything you are going thru w Henry with my Zach (now 5.5 months) and TOTALLY bought the bark collar. The citronella one. Our dog was too smart and learned how to raise his head above the spray. Although he did start understanding when the collar went on he needed to be quiet. LOL

  • Lindsay @ Fuel My Family September 28, 2012, 10:33 pm

    LOVE his nursery, so stylish! And blackout curtains are amazing and I have them in both of my kids bedrooms who sleep in until 8 am 🙂

  • Erica September 29, 2012, 7:03 am

    hahah. Market research is totally interesting! Hope the items help the little man nap better!

  • Sara @my less serious life September 29, 2012, 8:05 am

    (go publix!) i’ve ALWAYS though it would be absolutely fascinating to watch what people buy at the grocery store. i always peak in peoples carts myself – i feel like the kind of food can certainly tell you a lot about a person and his/her life.

  • Nikki September 29, 2012, 9:36 am

    I manage my Nana’s kindle through my Amazon account to simplify the process for her. Unfortunately for my predictive analytics, she only reads smutty Pride and Prejudice spinoffs. So now Amazon markets me with workout clothes, bike and yoga things, kitchen products, and risque older women novels 🙂

  • Emily @ September 29, 2012, 10:57 am

    That room looks so peaceful-I want to be there!

  • Amber K September 29, 2012, 12:24 pm

    It’s too crazy when the Internet knows more about my likes and dislikes than I do. Lol

  • Molly @ the F-spot September 29, 2012, 1:07 pm

    I worked with Andrew Pole in Marketing Research at Hallmark. He’s a smart (and super nice) dude. We’re still friends after all these years and miles.

  • emme September 29, 2012, 1:27 pm

    hahha this reminds me of the “freak out the cashier” game my friends and I used to play. basically, you list three items that when purchased together would skeeve out the person checking you out for example: pie crust, rat poison, and cheese(bakin a mouse pie!) or cat litter, cat food, and diapers. (someone unhealthily obsessed with their cats)

  • Anne September 29, 2012, 8:19 pm

    I love that kind of stuff! I studied marketing in school and always thought it would be so interesting to learn about people from what they bought.

    Holla for Publix! They NEED to hurry up and get to Raleigh!!!!

  • Regina September 29, 2012, 10:36 pm

    Those blackout curtains are a great idea, I’ll keep that in mind when I have a child. But for now I have a much more important question, where did you get that dachshund lamp? You have to tell me so I can taught my own dachshunds with it!

    • Caitlin September 30, 2012, 7:02 am

      There’s a link earlier in the comments!

  • Cindy October 7, 2012, 12:50 pm

    any updates on the effectiveness on the anti–bark collar?

    • Caitlin October 7, 2012, 2:53 pm

      It’s definitely losing effectiveness. She just barks over the spray now!!!

      • Cindy October 7, 2012, 4:16 pm

        Oh no! Might give it a try for old schnauzer girl. Just for when we sit outside on the porch. Really must she bark at EVERYONE that passes by?? LOL

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