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First of all I do not have a mathematics degree only a B.S. in finance so please take that into account when writing an answer. Generally what type of mathematics is involved here? And specifically what statistical formulas can be used in a scenario like this?

Recently Target was able to predict that a teen girl was pregnant by analyzing the items she had purchased, and sent her the appropriate coupons for her current condition. I would like to know broadly how were they able to do this, and specifically what types of mathematical formulas they used/ can be used to do this. The link below will describe the specific situation.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/02/16/how-target-figured-out-a-teen-girl-was-pregnant-before-her-father-did/

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Did you bother with the tag excerpts that people worked so hard to have here? [model-theory] is one of the furthest things from statistics and "modeling" that I can imagine. –  Asaf Karagila Mar 2 '12 at 0:06
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The specifics are probably private corporate information. Also, it's a probabilistic gambit, not a logical deduction on the part of Target's system (FYI). –  anon Mar 2 '12 at 0:09
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Sounds like an exercise in data mining to me, and would probably fall under the heading of "market basket analysis": en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Market_basket_analysis –  ItsNotObvious Mar 2 '12 at 0:10
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Data mining, machine learning, many things. I think this question should be moved to stackoverflow. Otherwise, the question is too broad & should be closed. –  user2468 Mar 2 '12 at 1:46
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I suspect its a form of insider knowledge that target used here. The store is clearly the father. –  Johannes Mar 6 '12 at 12:35

1 Answer 1

Target's approach is everyday, ordinary statistics. They have a list of products that are purchased by expectant mothers and know the significance of each "factor" (ie product purchase) towards indicating pregnancy. These are used to calculate a percent chance that the buyer is pregnant. Once that percentage exceeds a human-chosen threshold, they start sending them coupons and advertisements for baby stuff.

The products which expectant mothers tend to buy are unscented lotions, soaps, sanitizers, washcloths, cotton balls and containers (like extra large purses). If someone starts buying these things for the first time or in increasing amounts, each instance is counted as a factor.

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