WalMart as a demographics engine?

I was reading my local biweekly newspaper and they had a kitchy article talking to retailers about the Christmas shopping season.  The local toy store is doing a booming business but the bookstore is seeing reduced sales due to construction at the mall, in case you were wondering.

However, there was a quote from the local WalMart manager that got me thinking about the amazing amount of information that you can get from WalMart’s sales and inventory data.  The quote was benign enough – it seems that the Milton WalMart is selling more than its fair share of “Baby’s First Christmas” sleepers.  The power of that information is however potentially extraordinary.  Think about it – this little town is booming and has grown by about 100% over the last 2 years and I happen to know from observation that most of that growth came in the form of young couples who are getting ready to start a family.  I know that, but who else knows that?  Surely Statistics Canada (our Census Bureau) doesn’t have that information yet and I doubt if any other “official” source of data can show the massive boom in the young family demographic here.

Enter WalMart into the mix – widely lauded for their reliance on technology and vast amounts of information on hand about every transaction at every store in the world.  By mining the correct data, WalMart can paint a day-by-day picture of the shopping patterns of the entire continent.  Smart businesses could leverage that information to get a leg up on the competition and set up shop before the next guy to take advantage of new markets. (For example, a sharp rise in Baby’s First Christmas sleepers might prompt someone to build a chain of daycare centers in the area).

I just find it interesting that WalMart probably has better information on “us” than we do.

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