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Stupid Media Watch: Beware the ZIP-Code Monster


By Ken Magill

And the award for most misleading headline of the week goes to Forbes online—Forbes, of all places—for a piece titled: “Never Give Stores Your ZIP Code. Here’s Why” by contributor Adam Tanner.

The article then goes on to not offer a single reason to refuse to give ZIP codes at checkout. Now it wouldn’t be fair to blame Tanner for the headline. Headlines at major publications are usually written by copy editors.

We can, however, blame Tanner for offering the most absurd obligatory privacy scare story since the New York Times published its blindingly obvious-BS anecdote on Target.

Here we go:

“Jo Anna Davis remembers one ZIP code request that did not end well,” wrote Tanner. “A California victim of domestic violence who works at a group to help other victims, she guards her privacy carefully. Over the years she became a loyal customer of Ulta, the beauty care company. On one occasion she purchased a skin care kit which caused an unpleasant reaction. She brought the kit back to the store for a refund, and the clerk asked for Davis’ ZIP code to process the transaction.

“Concerned about her privacy, she declined to provide the information, prompting the clerk to remark that no one had ever refused before. The clerk called the manager, who showed irritation. Davis asked for her receipt back, the manager refused, so she took it herself. An argument ensued. The manager locked the store’s door and demanded it back. ‘It was absolutely insane. I’m sure I looked rather crazy myself,’ Davis says.

“The whole scene emerged only because Davis did not want to share her ZIP code.”

While that last sentence is technically accurate, the scene really emerged because the sales clerk and the manager of that particular Ulta store were idiots.

Law-breaking idiots, I might add.

Davis should have called the police and pressed charges for false imprisonment.

To imply that retailers’ collection of ZIP codes somehow resulted in this outrageous behavior is like telling a story of a woman who bounces a bottle off her husband’s head for refusing to get off the couch and then saying it was couch-related request that did not end well.

Yes, it was a couch-related request that did not end well. But the couch didn’t cause the event. And the event doesn’t shed any light—bad or otherwise—on couches or the people who vegetate on them.

The event doesn’t shed any light on bottles, either. It is simply an example of outrageous behavior that happens to involve a man, a woman, a bottle and a couch. The only thing it sheds light on is the perpetrator of the act.

Likewise, the event at Ulta doesn’t shed any light—bad or otherwise—on retail clerks requesting ZIP codes.

But then articles warning against the so-called dangers of data-driven marketing never really shed light on anything, do they?


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