Today, almost every large company collects data about its customers — reams and reams of raw, unstructured data. And they aren’t storing it for posterity. They are using it to do what businesses always try to do: Sell more widgets. More specifically, companies are using big data to identify new customers, advertise more effectively, and develop new products and services.
An apocryphal-sounding story about how companies are using big data to find customers recently made its way around cyberspace. Target tracks customers’ purchases to determine what products to advertise. According to the New York Times, an enterprising researcher at Target thought to analyze purchase data for women and developed a list of 25 products that, when considered together, generated a pregnancy-prediction score. The researcher analyzed every woman in Target’s database, and Target sent women with high scores baby-related coupons and advertisements.