The data breach at Target Corp. affects 110 million customers in the United States which is equivalent to almost every single household in the United States possibly being affected. It has led to many articles being published, commented on, and many tweeting on the breach. An analysis of social data on Twitter and social commentary on a New York Times article reveals sentiments expressed by customers.
The news on the number of customers affected by the data breach at Target came out in installments – 40 million, 70 million, and then 110 million. Earlier in December, the company admitted a breach into its systems that resulted in stolen credit card information on customers that had shopped at its stores in the United States from November 27th to mid-December. Later, it admitted to a larger breach that had been going on over a longer time-frame.
Figure 1: Analysis of Tweets on Target Data Breach
Analysis of Tweets on Target Data Breach
Customers to Target: Stop Calling us “Guests”!
An analysis of data from Tweets (see Figure 1 above based on social data analysis) and a separate analysis of comments generated by an article in the New York Times reveals a lot about what customers are thinking that the retail industry should be paying attention to. While the data from tweets reflect immediate reaction, they reflect shock at the enormity of the breach. Customers are unhappy that the information came out in installments and kept growing. Further analysis of data from over 1500 tweets over a 30 minute time period showed four segments of consumers. There were those who were shocked at the fact that the number had reached 110 million as revealed by the following tweet:
“@Target First 40 million, then 70 million, now 110 million?? Is it safe to say we’ll be at 200 million by next week? #JustBeHonest”
While Target might have released the data slowly to lessen the impact of disclosure on holiday sales, many questioned why it came out in installments and how much more was yet to come. It actually resulted in more tweets being generated on the new breach. The tweets on news of further breach accounted for a second segment.
A third segment focused on talking about the cost to Target because of lawsuits and impending probes. As one tweet mentioned even more than an impact on sales long-term, the costs add up due to other steps to be taken up in cleaning up the mess. Target itself admitted to seeing a lower percentage of sales at its stores after the disclosure.
There was a fourth and largest segment to which it was business as usual at Target, with mild remarks on the breach. Here is a sample of tweets reflecting this sentiment:
“How do me and my mom manage to spend 300$ at target ….
“My mom went all the way to Target for some freaking popcorn?
“Can u shop safely at Target anymore?”
so there was this bag that target had and i had wanted it since forever and now i have it and i am in love”
In general, the tweets reflect concern for security when shopping at all retailers than specifically about the Target brand.
Comments on a New York Times article, however, revealed unhappiness over the way Target handled this entire disclosure process (See Figure 2 below).
Figure 2: Analysis of Social Commentary on Target Data Breach
Analysis of Social Commentary on Target Data Breach
The fact that the numbers affected ballooned over time brought forth concern regarding leadership and concern about security. Many suggested that customers use cash instead. The conversation also revolved around how Target should stop using the word “Guest” when its does not treat them as such. If there is one sentence to describe the reaction of these customers, it is as follows:
“The arrogance of Target astounds;
Stop calling us your Guests.”
The impact of the breach is already clear. While the damage is done, it has made it important to usher in newer chip based credit card technology. This has also resulted in arguments between retail and financial institutions on who should bear the cost and burden of new technologies. The cost of such a breach is not just in identity theft at the individual level but a rise in black market for fraudulent credit cards that has impact on banks, law enforcement agencies, and retailers.
It is clear from the analysis that Target did not handle the disclosure process very well. The fact that the disclosure came out in installments, while increasing in its revealed damage – both in numbers and extent – only made it worse. The analysis reveals that Target customers hate being referred to as “Guests” and then treated in a way that is devoid of any protection and smacks of a lack of authenticity on its part to its customers. This breach is sure to make some customers weary in the short term of shopping at Target. However, this is a much bigger issue of protecting customer information with appropriate technology at all retailers so as to avoid larger costs resulting from an aftermath of such crisis. Some customers did suggest using only cash, while admitting that they never have enough on hand. While this might be a wish, it is likely to stay a wish for consumers in today’s economy. At least in the short term though, some customers are using cash only as stated here. As some of the tweets revealed, the larger impact is likely to come from other sources such as monitoring and probes.
Target is well-advised to take some steps to make its customers feel safer about shopping. It is clear that its customers dislike the use of the term “Guests” to address them. The ritual of calling its customers “Guests,” is perceived as just that – a ritual. It does not reflect a culture of caring. While its customers appreciate many products at its stores, the relatively higher quality compared to Walmart, and the fact that it is better stocked than Walmart, the company could do more to build its brand health. Starting with taking steps to make customers feel secure about doing transactions at its store and taking the lead among retail could be one such step. Target Corp. Chief Executive Gregg Steinhafel’s call to banks and other retailers to adopt chip based card technology is a step in the right direction. This is an opportunity for Target to lead the way for other retailers.