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Coupons are no longer just being used as a way to attract customers to stores. Businesses have begun to rely on electronic coupons as a tool to learn key details about their customers and the steps they take before setting foot into a store.

According to the New York Times, when shoppers use electronic coupons from their computers or cell phones, they may be revealing more about themselves than they realize. “While the coupons look standard, their bar codes can be loaded with a startling amount of data, including identification about the customer, Internet address, Facebook page information and even the search terms the customer used to find the coupon in the first place,” the Times reports.

No, these coupons don’t have access to your social security number, but they do have access to something nearly as risky: an intimate account of your personal buying habits and decisions.

“It’s almost like being able to read their mind,” one advertising expert told the Times, which is exactly why many businesses are eager to use this technology. Rather than guess at what promotions work to lure consumers, companies can now learn how individual shoppers search for deals, find coupons and which deals they are likely to go after.

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The Facebook tracking tool is particularly startling. We’ve written before about rumors of creating a Facebook barcode that users could carry on a business card (several of our readers were hesitant about this possibility.) Now, businesses seem to have circumvented this all together.

Jonathan Treiber, co-founder of RevTrax, the company behind the technology, said that they will only become more adept at “profiling” shoppers in the future. That’s all well and good for businesses, but just imagine the day when a retail store cold calls you about a new promotion and reveals that they know more about your tastes than many of your friends do.

Looking for coupons online? Check out our story on the best sites for coupon lovers.

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