The Power of Habit, or “Target Knows You’re Pregnant.”

The Power of Habit

Target is stalking you.

This is probably not a revelation for any one of us, since it’s a well-documented fact that women LOVE Target, though none of us can put a finger on exactly why. I think we all just assume that Target has gotten a PhD from Retail Manipulation School. The same school that tells Kroger to put the produce up front (if you buy veggies first, you’re more likely to buy ice cream and pizza later) and to the right (no one knows why, but people tend to turn right upon entering a store) is probably telling Target a thing or two as well. Something about lighting, color, shelf height, and signage. If anyone’s put any of that in a book, please let me know, as I find all of that terribly interesting. But wait…didn’t I say Target was stalking you?


If you’ve ever paid for anything at Target and used a credit card, Target knows you. Not just what you’ve purchased or where you live; they know if you’ve gotten divorced recently, what you do for a living, and possibly what you look like. There are business that find information about you online and then sell it to companies like Target, which is creepy, but a little unstoppable unless you want to spend your life obsessing about paying for everything with cash and never, ever using Facebook. Target knows if you’re pregnant, even if you haven’t told anyone or signed up for a baby registry. The fascinating, creepy, brilliant details of this are all laid out in Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit.

In one story, an angry father shows up at Target waving some ads that had been sent to his daughter that contained coupons for baby care items and nursery furniture. “What are you trying to say to my TEENAGE daughter?!” he asks. The Target manager apologizes profusely, but when Target calls the man a couple weeks later to check in and re-apologize, the angry father apologizes first. His daughter was due in August, she just hadn’t told anyone.

OK, so maybe that’s creepy and wrong and teenage girls shouldn’t be getting outed by coupons. But it’s also fascinating, no?

Usually, when I read nerdy psychology books like this (which I do…a lot), I leave you all out of it. My sister commented at Christmas that my GoodReads queue would make her want to shoot herself, and I don’t blame her. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea to be on the elliptical machine, reading about neuroplasticity and synapses while sweat drips down the side of your face. However, I wanted to point you all in the direction of The Power of Habit because I found it to be a really easy read while also being really fascinating on a “not too sciency, but also not too flippant” level. Duhigg is a slightly more well-researched version of Malcolm Gladwell, who can be a little too anecdotal for me. You can’t just put a theory in a book and present it as truth without actually testing it, and Gladwell tends to come a little too close to that.

Other topics presented in The Power of Habit include the story of how Febreze almost didn’t become a thing, why the Montgomery bus boycott worked, why making your bed might make you more productive at work, and how to form new habits or break old ones. It has case studies backed up with research, and a bit of advice on how to implement the ideas in your own life. And also the stuff about Target…though he still doesn’t explain why you go there for laundry detergent and end up spending $100. Where’s THAT book? I would totally read that book.