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Look at what appears when I visit Walmart.com:
It’s asking me if I want to re-order those items. Trouble is I have never “ordered” those items from Walmart.com. These are items I’ve purchased in the store.
These are all things I’ve purchased in the store at one time or another. But why are they showing up on my computer at home? I don’t log in to my Walmart.com account when I check out in the store, so how is this working?
Walmart records every transaction, top to bottom, and stores it under your credit or debit card information. If you keep your credit card on file with Walmart.com, it can easily connect the two pieces of information. It really is just that simple.
The Walmart app for your smartphone also now has a “Savings Catcher” feature, which can be used to net you some savings on a gift card. while you’re trying to save a few dollars here and there, Walmart is just verifying that the “dots” they have connected are, in fact, accurate. You just connected the two unrelated pieces of information FOR them (your “real world” shopping behaviors with your “online” Walmart.com account). But I had never used the “Savings Catcher” feature when I started seeing items specific to me showing up in my online recommendations, though, making it apparent that Walmart.com isn’t afraid to use payment information as a method of tracking you.
Some people may not actually consider this a huge invasion of their privacy. Some people like the ability to save some money with savings catcher, and they like convenience of having advertisements online that are relevant to their interests (it beats the old “male enhancement pill” ads on every single website, doesn’t it?).
But what if Walmart decides they’re going to profit from that information, instead of exclusively using it internally? They could sell your entire life time shopping list to someone else, for instance your insurance company. Maybe they see that you bought a few frozen meals and TV-dinner type meals, rather than fresh fruits and vegetables. They look at your diet and consider you a risk, causing your premiums to go up, and you have an uphill battle. You never gave them that level of permission to know you so intimately, but perhaps Walmart will in the future – and they already have your whole past purchase history tied to your account, every time you’ve swiped that card or clicked an online order.
If you saw my previous article about Facebook eavesdropping on your conversations, you’ll notice that the ad on the Facebook page was an ad for Sam’s Club. I had just recently purchased those Goldfish Crackers from a Walmart store, and I have very likely used the same credit or debit card at Walmart, at Sam’s Club, and on Walmart.com – so was it really Facebook listening to me? Or was it Walmart targeting me? It’s practically impossible to be certain, since these large companies don’t reveal their practices when it comes to consumer privacy and advertising.
So what can you do? Not much, unfortunately. If you really wanted to you could try using a unique card that you don’t use anywhere else, but it would likely still have your name attached to it through the payment processing system. You could try using cash exclusively whenever possible, but it seems antiquated in this day and age, when so many people choose the convenience factor of paying with a card. Gone are the days where a payment processor knew nothing more than the total dollar amount and who to charge it to, now everyone from Walmart to Visa and MasterCard and everyone else out there knows much, much more about you. Unfortunately, there is no great solution, but the best thing you can do at this time is at least arm yourself with knowledge and understanding of how these processes are working and make the decisions that are best for you.