How Retailers Track Your Purchases Through Barcodes


Retailers have more knowledge about who we are and what we do than most think. Based on our credit card transactions, coupons used and returns that are made, retailers have the ability to keep track of what products we purchase, when they’re purchased and why.

This is done by retailers developing consumer profiles based on tracking our purchasing habits through barcodes on purchased items. For years now retailers have been working to perfect their system of tracking customers’ purchases, trying to come up with the best approach towards establishing the type of customer you are.

The process goes like so: the consumer buys something from a retailer and a relationship is born. The customer receives an ID number in the retailers computer tracking system and from then on, purchases that are made by that customer are kept in their record. With this technique, the retailer can establish the individual needs of each consumer based off of previous purchases, have and have nots and complimentary items issued to them.

The retailer then works to establish the best way to get you to come into their store and make a purchase, whether it’s through sending flyers that pertain to items you would normally buy, couponing or sending email incentives. Finally, the incentives are created specifically in relation to your stage in life. This means that if you’re pregnant for example, you’ll most likely receive coupons for diapers and baby food. On the other hand, if you’re a 40 year old bachelor, you’ll be looking for much different items, and the computer can prove it.

The main goal of these retailers is to increase purchases overall and open a customers mind to using their store as a one-stop shop. Some major retailers such as Target and Walmart have superstores that contain anything from milk and eggs to stereo equipment and the latest movie on DVD. Most people don’t think to purchase items from every spectrum at a single store and that’s something retailers want to change.

To think that every purchase you make shares a little piece of information about your consumption patterns with retailers is unnerving. Some have wondered whether this process is crossing the line while to others, receiving coupons and special offers in the mail is all that matters to them.

In one case, Target actually discovered that a teen girl was pregnant before her own father did. By sending her coupons and specials in the mail for baby related items, her father furiously brought it up with the local Target manager, who apologized for the mishap. A week later, it turned out the father’s daughter was indeed pregnant, and he just hadn’t been notified yet. This is an extreme example of retailers having their finger on the pulse and tracking through our purchases what’s going on in our lives.

It’s scary to know that an enormous retailer can know such private details about your life before someone close to you finds out, almost mind-boggling actually. What solutions are there to avoid stores knowing such detailed information about you? The only real solution is to consider making many more of your purchases using cash, to avoid tracking and profiling by major retailers.

If you’re willing to embrace the science and technology of tracking purchases, you will see the influx of targeted coupons and special offers you’ll receive from retailers. What you need to keep in mind is how deep the retailer is able to dive into your personal life and determine from there how you want to approach it. One thing is for certain – this method of tracking by retailers is here to stay.

Patricia Goldbum is a freelance writer focusing on technology and business. As a business woman with a passion for organization, she just recently implemented property tag solutions through Camcode to improve efficiency and effectiveness in her place of work.

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