Target’s personalized loyalty program launches nationwide next month – gpgmail


Target today announced its new, data-driven loyalty program, Target Circle, will launch nationwide on October, 6th, following a year and a half of beta testing in select markets. The program combines a variety of features including 1% back on purchases, birthday rewards, and personalized offers and savings designed to make the program more attractive to consumers.

It also includes a way for customers to vote on Target’s community giving initiatives, which helps directs Target’s giving to around 800 nonprofits in the U.S.

The new program is designed to lure in customers who have yet to adopt Target’s store card, REDcard. While REDcard penetration today is around 23%, that number has remained fairly consistent over time — in fact, it’s down about one percentage point from a year ago.

With Target Circle, however, the retailer has another means of generating loyalty and establishing a connection with its customers on a more individualized basis.

A big part of that is the personalized aspect of the Target Circle program. In addition to the “birthday perks” (an easy way to grab some demographic data), customers will also get special discounts on the categories they “shop most often” — meaning, Target will be tapping into its treasure trove of customer purchase history to make recommendations from both in-store and online purchases along with other signals.

“As guests shop, Target leverages information about their shopping behaviors and purchases to share relevant offers that create an even more personalized, seamless shopping experience,” a company spokesperson explained, when asked for details about the data being used. “For example, a guest who frequently shops Target for baby products may receive a special offer on their next purchase of baby items.”

TargetCircle NonBeta 19 Brand RGB Logo Red

According to a recent retail study from Avionos, 78% of consumers are more likely to purchase from retailers that better personalize their experiences and 63% are more open to sharing personal information if retailers can better anticipate needs.

And as some may recall, Target is already scary good at personalization.

In one notable case, the retailer figured out a teen girl was pregnant before her father did, and sent her coupons for baby items. The dad, understandably, was angry — until he found out that Target was right.

That story was a high-profile example of the data collection and analysis big retailers are doing all the time, though. Target Circle simply formalizes this into an opt-in program instead of an opt-out experience.

As part of the changes, Target’s Cartwheel savings are rolling into Target Circle where they’ll be rebranded as Target Circle offers. 

TargetCircle inApp

Circle members will also get early access to special sales throughout the year — that is, the events people line up for, like they did for the Lilly Pulitzer fashion line or more recently, the quickly sold out Vineyard Vines collection.

Target says, in time, it will come up with “even more personalized, relevant ways” to make shopping easier for its customers.

The new program is meant to complement the REDcard, which will increase the cashback to 5% when used. But REDcard holders can still join Circle to take advantage of the other perks.

WalletRedeeming

“Our guests are at the center of everything we do, and we’re always looking for ways to create even easier, more rewarding shopping experiences that give them another reason to choose Target,” said Rick Gomez, Target executive vice president, and chief marketing and digital officer, in a statement. “We worked directly with guests to develop Target Circle, and the program includes the benefits and perks they told us were most important to them, from earning on every trip to having the opportunity to help Target make a positive impact in their local communities,” he said.

The loyalty program had been in testing in Dallas-Ft. Worth, Charlotte, Denver, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Phoenix over the past 18 months.

Though not having Amazon’s scale, Target has done well at quickly innovating to keep up with today’s pace of e-commerce. In short order, it has made over its stores to make more room for order pickups and online grocery, and has launched and expanded new services like Target Restock (next-day), Shipt (same day delivery) and Drive Up (same day pickup). The changes have been paying off with Target beating on its latest earnings with $18.42 billion in revenue and profits of $938 million.

 


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How early-stage startups can use data effectively – gpgmail


“If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.” – Jim Barksdale

It is a commonly held belief that startups can measure their way to success. And while there are always exceptions, early-stage companies often can’t leverage data easily, at least not in the way that later stage companies can. It’s imperative that startups recognize this early on — it makes all the difference.

In this piece, I draw on my experiences using data to take Framer from seed round to Series B. More concretely, I’ll describe what to (not) focus on, and then, how to get real results.

There are good and bad ways for startups to use data. In my opinion, the bad way unfortunately is often preached on saas blogs, a/b test tool marketing pages, and especially growth hacker conferences: that by simply measuring and looking at data you’ll find simple things to do that will drive explosive growth. Silver bullets, if you will.

The good way is comparable to first principles thinking. Below the surface of your day to day results, your startup can be described by a set of numbers. It takes some work to discover these numbers, but once you have them you can use them to make predictions and spot underlying trends. If everyone in your company knows these numbers by heart, they will inevitably make better decisions.

But most importantly, using data the right way will help answer the single most important – but complex – question at any moment for a startup: how are we really doing?

Let’s start with looking at what not to do as a startup.

Table of Contents


Common pitfalls

Don’t measure too much

Technically, it’s easy to measure everything, so most startups start out that way. But when you measure everything, you learn nothing. Just the sheer noise makes it hard to discover anything useful and it can be demotivating to look at piles of numbers in general.

My advice is to carefully plan what you want to measure upfront, then implement and conclude. You should only expand your set of measurements once you’ve made the most important ones actionable. Later in this article, I provide a clear set of ways to plan what you measure.

A/B tests are anti-startup

To make decisions based on data you need volume. Without volume, the data itself is not statistically significant and is basically just noise. To detect a 3% difference with 95% confidence you would need a sample size of 12,000 visitors, signups, or sales. That sample size is generally too high for most early-stage startups and forces your product development into long cycles.

While on the subject of shipping fast and iterating later, let’s talk about A/B testing. To get reliable measurements, you should only be changing one variable at a time. During the early stages of Framer, we changed our homepage in the middle of a checkout A/B test, which skewed our results. But as a startup, it was the right decision to adjust the way we marketed our product. What you’ll find is that those two factors are often incompatible. In general, constant improvements should trump tests that block quick reactionary changes.

Understand your calculations


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Kaspersky Products Leak Everything You Do Online, Straight Through Incognito Mode


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Kaspersky Labs does not enjoy the best reputation. The company has been linked to Russian intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security has banned its use in government computers, and Best Buy will not sell its products. In 2017, news broke that the Israelis had observed Russian intelligence operatives using Kaspersky software to spy on the United States. Now, an investigation of the company’s antivirus software has uncovered a major data leak that goes back to 2015.

According to German publication C’t, Kaspersky antivirus injects a Universally Unique Identifier (UUID) into the source code of every single website that you visit. This UUID value is unique to the computer and the installation of the software. The value injected into each and every website never changes, even if you use a different browser or access the internet using a browser’s Incognito Mode.

C’t found the injection because one of their antivirus software evaluators came across the same line of source code in multiple websites. Installing the application on different systems resulted in the creation of different UUID values. Assigned UUIDs didn’t change over time, indicating that they were static. And because these values are injected into the source code of every single website that you visit, it means that the sites you track can track you back. As C’t writes:

Other scripts running in the context of the website domain can access the entire HTML source any time, which means they can read the Kaspersky ID.

In other words, any website can read the user’s Kaspersky ID and use it for tracking. If the same Universally Unique Identifier comes back, or appears on another website of the same operator, they can see that the same computer is being used.

After building a proof-of-concept and testing that users with Kaspersky antivirus installed could indeed be tracked straight through incognito mode, C’t contacted Kaspersky. The flaw now has a formal name: CVE-2019-8286. Kaspersky has argued that it’s a fairly minimal problem that would require advanced techniques to exploit. Kaspersky has patched its software so that it now only injects information about which version of a Kaspersky product you use into each and every website you visit, not a unique identifier specific to your personal machine. C’t is not happy with this fix and believes it still constitutes a security risk.

C’t’s proof of concept. Image by C’t.

A bug that identifies a computer to a website that knows how to listen for that information is potentially quite valuable. Even if Kaspersky has no external database associating UUIDs with specific installations, broadcasting a UUID straight through incognito mode means that a webserver logs a visit from a specific computer. If that machine is associated with a specific individual, you’ve established a link.

Is it possible that Kaspersky simply made a terrible security decision when it implemented its antivirus software? Absolutely. The fact that a bug exists doesn’t automatically mean that someone nefarious was using it. But these types of coincidences are interesting, to say the least. Broadcasting a UUID as part of antivirus software operation is not the kind of attack avenue most of us would expect. It’s the type of fingerprinting method that an intelligence agency might be very interested in using to track who was accessing very specific websites, but not the kind of thing that a regular malware operation would have much interest in. Of course, one could also argue that this is why the bug snuck in to start with. Kaspersky’s flaw, in this reading, isn’t deliberate nefariousness; it’s an accident that reflects the company’s chief focus on stopping ordinary malware, not state actors.

I don’t know which perception is right. But I would at least suggest investigating an antivirus provider with fewer allegations of foreign intelligence cooperation if this sort of issue is a concern to you.

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FTC Toadies for Equifax, Begs Citizens to Register for Largely Worthless Credit Monitoring


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In theory, organizations like the FTC exist to safeguard United States citizens. In practice, all too often, these organizations are far more beholden to the companies they supposedly regulate than the citizens whose rights they protect. Last week, the FTC announced a settlement with Equifax, in which individuals whose data was stolen — that’s basically everyone in the United States — were eligible for $125 in compensation. Given the breadth and importance of the data Equifax allowed to be stolen, one might think that kind of minimal compensation would be the least the company could offer, given that it leaked social security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, and names.

Now, however, the FTC has changed its tune. Far too many people have registered for the $125 settlement. Under the proposed settlement structure, only $31M has been set aside to provide these refunds. That translates to $125 for 248,000 people. The Equifax hack affected 147 million people. In other words, according to the FTC, only 0.16 percent of Americans were estimated to request $125. Now our government is begging its own citizens to accept near-worthless free credit monitoring (which costs Equifax literally nothing to provide) rather than asking for a tiny cash settlement in exchange for one of the most egregious database thefts of all time.

Just Buy It Pick Free Credit Report Monitoring

The FTC’s new blog post is headlined “Equifax data breach: Pick free credit report monitoring.” Robert Schoshinski, the Assistant Director, Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, writes:

The free credit monitoring is worth a lot more – the market value would be hundreds of dollars a year. And this monitoring service is probably stronger and more helpful than any you may have already, because it monitors your credit report at all three nationwide credit reporting agencies, and it comes with up to $1 million in identity theft insurance and individualized identity restoration services.

The FTC blog post does not note that the only reason the pool of cash for refunds is so small is the FTC deal with Equifax only allocates $31M to the relevant fund. While the agreement with Equifax included up to $425M to help victims of the breach, the overwhelming majority of the money is earmarked for other purposes. That’s dealt with in a separate press release. The government also doesn’t note that under the terms of the deal, it will be extremely difficult for anyone to prove an incidence of identity theft was tied to the Equifax database theft because that database has never been detected for sale on any hacking website. This implies it was stolen by a state actor rather than a conventional hacker.

Hurrah. R0ckH4rd69Lvr doesn’t have your data; Russia or China probably does. That’s vastly better.

Most financial websites do not agree with the FTC’s claim that free credit monitoring is worth “a lot more.” To quote Levar Burton, “You don’t have to take my word for it.” Here’s a sampling of quotes and links on the topic:

NerdWallet: “NerdWallet recommends avoiding such offerings from credit bureaus.”
US News & World Report: “It’s of some value if you are a victim of identity theft, but its value is rather narrow.”
CNBC: “Credit monitoring services may not be worth the cost”
CNN Money: “Most of what these products provide you can easily do yourself, and for free.”
LendingTree: “The paid credit monitoring services won’t necessarily monitor your reports any better than a free service.”

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh captured the spirit of the issue far better in his comments about the settlement last week. Speaking about the ~147M victims of the Equifax hack, he noted: “Most of them—most of us—did not sign up… We did not choose Equifax,” Frosh said. “It chose us. It collected our personal information, it compiled it, analyzed that information, and sold the product and some of the raw data to other people. Their carelessness with our personal data will cause harm perhaps for millions of Americans.”

Slate’s argument, made last week, was that customers had a moral obligation to claim this funding, to send a message to Equifax and other companies about the critical importance of data security and to hold them accountable for failing to do so. Nobody chooses to do business with Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian. These institutions compile financial records and credit reports on Americans without consent, to provide global information about one’s credit history. There is no way to voluntarily withdraw from the system and credit checks are so important for so many life events, there would be little practical way for any but the richest Americans to do so.

Facebook got hit with a $5B fine for Cambridge Analytica, but Equifax is skating by with a $671M fine. According to the FTC, this was a deliberate decision to protect Equifax. “We want to make sure we don’t bankrupt the company or have them go out of business,” Maneesha Mithal, a data and privacy subject matter expert with the FTC, told Ars Technica. “We want to make sure they have the funds and resources to protect consumers going forward.”

Yes. Because nothing speaks to the importance of protecting consumers like a slap on the wrist when a company loses the data of 147 million Americans. Nothing promotes trust like the FTC publishing a shameful, toadying blog post declaring the value of worthless monitoring services that the company being fined can provide at no cost to itself.

Details on how to object to the settlement, should you wish to do so, are on the FAQ linked at the EquifaxBreachSettlement page. You cannot ask the Court to change the settlement, but you can advocate for it to be approved or denied. A $125 payment for a few million Americans was bad enough, but the government’s behavior in this case, not to mention the terms of the settlement itself, are both insulting.

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Twisted Graphene Exhibits Previously Theoretical Magnetic State With Great Potential


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The “wonder material” known as graphene continues to prove its merits in unexpected ways as scientists and engineers experiment with new applications.  In an accidental discovery at Stanford, graphene exhibited a magnetic property that was previously considered theoretical and could someday lead to important advancements in storage technologies.

Without even a shred of hyperbole, graphene is an incredible material. Made up of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice, the material is no more than an atom thick, nearly transparent, and about 100 times stronger than steel. Although difficult to produce at scale (for now), you can (sort of) make it with a no. 2 pencil and a strip of tape.  Recent discoveries demonstrated that graphene conducts electricity with no resistance when arranged in a twisted bilayer arrangement and provides a path toward the development of super-fast electronics.  As New Atlas reports, a team at Stanford decided to build upon this discovery and inadvertently made one of their own.

When the team took a graphene sample and provided it with electric current, it produced a large voltage flowing perpendicular to that current.  Even in the absence of an external magnetic field, the graphene continued to internally generate its own. While materials will most commonly exhibit ordinary ferromagnetism upon the synchronization of their electron’s spin states, the internal magnetic field achieved with the graphene sample displayed orbital ferromagnetism—a previously theoretical phenomenon caused by the alignment of orbital motion in a material’s electrons.

Two key changes caused the discovery: sandwiching the twisted bilayer graphene between thin, aligned layers of thin hexagonal boron nitride and an increase in the rotation of the graphene sheets from 1.1 to 1.2 degrees.  Although the graphene sample couldn’t accomplish much of what you’d expect from an everyday magnet, lead researcher David Goldhaber-Gordon explains how this actually presents an advantage:

Our magnetic bilayer graphene can be switched on with very low power and can be read electronically very easily. The fact that there’s not a large magnetic field extending outward from the material means you can pack magnetic bits very close together without worrying about interference.

Densely packed magnetic bits and a low energy footprint offer a potential solution to the high costs of data centers that make up for 2 percent of yearly power consumption in the United States.  To put that in perspective, that electricity could power roughly 6.4 million homes. Furthermore, greater bit density can lead to increases in storage capacity and a smaller surface area.

Back in 2012, IBM devised a system of storing one bit across 12 atoms—a little less than a typical storage device that requires about a million.  IBM accomplished this feat using antiferromagnetism, though it seems that graphene’s orbital ferromagnetism and low power requirements might become a more useful home for such a storage system.  After all, they built a super-fast graphene processor a couple of years later. Perhaps Stanford’s efforts will lead to super-fast chips with long-term memory storage—a combination worthy of a synapse-emulating photonic microchip. Light might even speed things up further, too.

Of course, fun ideas like that live in a speculative world of imagination—at least until graphene gives us another happy accident.  But that’s part of what makes graphene such a wonder material: you can boldly dream about its potential and, sometimes, it will suddenly deliver the reality.

Title image credit: Adam Dachis

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