You are doing it wrong

No, not you. I can’t even see you. I have no idea what you’re doing. I’m sure whatever it is . . . *squints at the screen* . . . is just fine. Probably.

No, I’m talking about retailers. More specifically, their marketing departments. This has been on my mind because of the recent disclosure by Google that they are now going to stalk all our internet activity across all platforms and somehow, I don’t know, smush it all together. So they can do a better job of stalking us.

Well, all I can say is, it’s about damn time. Because so far, efforts have been pitiful at best. Retailers need to pay attention and ramp up their efforts as well.

You want examples? You’re in luck. I have examples [and in future, be careful what you wish for when you notice I haven’t posted in a while].

Last Christmas — not the one we just had, the one sixteen months ago — I bought my son some clothes. Online, at Macy’s. And for the next eight months, every other week, I got an email from Macy’s telling me about the biggest newest sale they were having. On men’s clothes. This, in spite of the fact that my “real name” is not one of those names anyone would ever mistake for a man’s name. Really.

At the same time, I also bought an Italian cookbook over at Amazon to give as a gift. Last week, way more than a year later, I got yet another monthly email from Amazon telling me about yet another new release in Italian cookbooks.

Okay, first of all, retailers should just assume anything purchased in December — maybe even late November because, incomprehensibly, some people don’t wait until the last minute to shop — is a gift. And not an item of lifelong personal interest. Second, how many Italian cookbooks do they imagine one person needs? If they were smart, they’d think, hey, this customer likes to cook! and offer French or Thai or Indian cookbooks. Or maybe send ads about unique kitchen utensils. Or unusual spice collections. But no. Every month I get an email about the latest Italian cookbook.

Then there was the rental car company that stalked me with big yellow pop-up ads for four months. Thanks for the reminder that your rates were the highest of all the companies I researched. Thanks for reminding me, every day for four months, of a particularly stressful time in my life when my daughter’s car needed expensive repairs and we decided to sell it instead (to a guy who loves to fix cars) but then we had to rent a car at the last minute so she could drive back to New Orleans in relative safety. I was trying to block all that from my memory, thankyouverymuch. You can be sure I’ll remember you next time I need to rent a car.

And last fall, when my son mentioned he was going to an ECU football game and I later wondered who they were playing, so I went to the ECU website because I figured that was the fastest way of answering that question. Yeah, right. Thanks ECU, for stalking me with ads for a few months, telling me what a great educational experience you offer. But it just so happens I’ve already paid you way more money than any one entity truly deserves, regardless of my son’s Econ degree. Thanks for the reminder about that parent loan I’m still paying off.

Oh, and thank you Domino’s for all your advertising stalkery after I had a momentary lapse in judgment and self-control and ordered a pizza from you online. Obviously, you don’t know that my body has issues with gluten. Eating pizza, even a thin crust pizza that has really thin gluten, is a really bad idea. Really. But hey, thanks for reminding me over and over and over again what an idiot I am and just how awful I felt afterward.

And then there’s the women’s clothing store where I bought a couple things for myself in early December. Things I really liked. A lot. Happy birthday to me! And I’d shop there again. Maybe next December, on my next birthday. Except . . . I’m starting to fucking hate you because you’ve sent me an email EVERY SINGLE DAY since then, telling me about the latest INCREDIBLE SALE you’re having. Every. Damn. Day. That reeks of desperation. What are you thinking? I don’t even read them anymore before I hit the delete button.

And then there’s all the stuff I click on and look at on the internet that’s a result of research for writing. Or idle curiosity. Or boredom. Someone mentions a pretty necklace or a cute pair of shoes, I go look. I’m not shopping, for godsakes. I hate shoes and most jewelry makes me twitch. I’m procras– um, I’m trying (and failing) to see the attraction.

Or maybe someone used an obscure word in an article and suddenly I’m not sure I remember the precise meaning, given the way it was used (glaringly). So I google it. Because, as a writer, precise meaning is important to me (even if it isn’t to others). That does not mean I want to see six months of ads for the stupid thing.

Yes, I know, I could get rid of much of this nonsense by erasing my history or deleting my cookies or opting out of email. But I don’t want to. As irritating as it is, it’s fascinating to watch companies getting it so very wrong. Like an epic train wreck of grossly ineffective high-tech stalkery.

So I’m delighted and cautiously optimistic about Google’s intention to pay closer attention. I hope they’ll realize that I’m interested in damn near everything. And that they won’t start limiting my searches to things I’ve already seen. Maybe they’ll even realize that until they start asking me what I think about the things I’ve seen, the meaning of a website click is not necessarily what they have so far assumed it to be.

Sooner or later, someone is going to figure out how to do it right. And that doing it right means no restrictions. No pre-determined preferences. No narrowing of boundaries. Because my curiosity and capacity for procras– um, thirst for knowledge are limitless and far more diverse than any search engine or marketing department could ever imagine.

In fact, I’m waiting for the search engine that knows me so well, they’ve discovered I’m a writer. Perhaps they’ll contact me to say, “We noticed that last month you were searching for articles about undetectable fatal poisons — frankly we’re a bit disturbed by that, but we know you’re a writer so we’re trying to stay calm and not contact the authorities, but still, please don’t ever invite us over for lunch — and thought you might be interested to know there have been two new articles on that topic published since then and here are the links.” Because that would be awesome. Also, helpful.

And maybe, eventually, some company will send me an email saying, “Hey, we noticed you’re a writer! We bought your book and read it and loved it so much, we bought copies for all of our employees and our mom too!”

I’m telling you, THAT company will have gained a loyal customer for life. I don’t even care if all they sell are Italian cookbooks.


Filed under just for fun, marketing

18 responses to “You are doing it wrong

  1. cbpen

    You’ve done it again! Said a lot of what I have thought over the years. 🙂


  2. McB

    Love it! There’s a definite obsessive-compulsive streak among online vendors that’s really annoying. I wonder how many of us end up ignoring their pop ups and emails out of spite? You know if we could diversify our searches and clicks enough, we could probably give their servers a nervous breakdown.


  3. Maybe I’m weird but I actually get a little thrill about all the wrong, wrong, wrong ads the internet retailers try to push at me. I am smug, knowing that they haven’t completely pegged me and I will remain obscure to them for another year or two.

    Because when they eventually get it exactly right, I will go broke. Suddenly everything I never knew I needed but now desperately want will be at my fingertips. Yikes.


  4. Thanks, Pen — glad it’s not just me.

    McB, I think you’ve got something there. You’ll take over the world yet.

    Hi, Margaret! If you’re weird, you’ll fit right in over here. In spite of the strange Italian cookbook thing, I think Amazon has figured me out. They send me daily emails with a very tempting listing of new books. [sigh]


  5. This is why I have an email address explicitly for retailers. I never look at their emails and hit delete every few weeks. I only pay attention when I am going to shop.

    They’re happy in their own marketing world and I’m not bothered by their spam. 🙂

    Great article.


  6. Beth, that really is the only way to handle it. Divide and conqu– um, ignore. I’ve pretty much separated my various online identities into “family” and “writer” and “imaginary friends” and “whatever crap is leftover” too. But still. There’s no way to avoid it if you’re going to buy stuff online.

    And then there’s the old abandoned (out of necessity) email address that got usurped by some guy in India, yet I still get his email even after I changed the password. I click “unsubscribe” to his goofy listserves every chance I get. Someday, he’ll thank me.


  7. (sigh) As I buy almost all of my family/friend gifts for birthdays, Christmas, Valentines Day online (I loathe all other forms of shopping…the mall is my anti-happy place) I SO appreciate and understand this. I do waht Beth does. I have an email account for no use BUT my shopping…all of the junk e-mail sales; 12 shipping notifications per transaction and “new finds just for you!” go to this one account. SO much easier…in addition, I’d like to add in the spirit of this post, that just because I happen to check the caloric count on resteraunt items before dining does NOT mean I want Jillian Michaels and her wierd uni-brow to pop up every 5 minutes on my sceren and remind me that NO, I am not “shredding” today and to go on to ask me if I need to lose 20, 30 or 40 pounds. None of the above you judgemental bitch. I count my calories so I DON’T HAVE TO DO YOUR PSYCHO VIDEOS.


  8. OMG, Heidi. For some odd reason (probably the CAPS) I read the last two sentences of your comment first and was VERY confused about why someone was calling me a judgmental bitch and why the hell they thought I had videos. Then again, I guess I can be pretty judgmental… and bitchy… um, I guess I shouldn’t have been so confused. 😎

    One of my co-workers is diabetic and I was curious about that so I googled it. [sigh] Facebook ads are still insisting that I must want to know more about how to manage “my” diabetic lifestyle.


  9. cbpen

    I get the diabetic and weight loss stuff and I SWEAR I have never clicked on anything related to that. I think someone who thought I should lose weight entered my name somewhere & now, they send me stuff. I was sabotaged, I tell ya!! 🙂


  10. LOL! It’s a conspiracy! I think with FB, they just assume anyone over a certain age has those problems. Sadly, they’re probably right more often than not.


  11. What makes me mad are the ads I’m starting to get for things like AARP. I am NOT THAT OLD. I’m nowhere near that old dammit. It’s strange that they can’t keep better databases, enmeshed in the age of technology as we are. And there’s absolutely no need to send daily email ads. Ever. I don’t get that at all. Some little person in the ad department needs to be slapped.


  12. Melinda, my daughter got one of those notices from AARP about a year ago. And she’s in her early 20s. We all had a good laugh. It’s either that or cry. Or run screaming into the night. I try to avoid that.

    And yeah, the daily emails about the NEW SALE (and there really is a new deal EVERY DAY) are just baffling. So counter-productive.


  13. What bothers me is the automated phone calls from debt collectors. I don’t know either Ismail Molina or Maria Hernandez, but just try convincing a tape recording about something like that.


  14. Automated collection calls? That doesn’t sound very effective. They’re definitely doing it wrong.

    I’m going to call you Ismail from now on. This will make you feel better. Or something.


  15. Words cannot describe how much better I feel.


  16. See? It’s like magic. Only without the top hat and bunny rabbit.

    You’re welcome. Ismail.


  17. Call me Ishmael.

    (Never thought I’d get a chance to use that classic line.)


  18. Every day on my blog is like Christmas. The gifts just keep coming.

    (I suspected you wouldn’t be able to resist the set-up. 😎 )