Consumer Data Available to Data Miners

By Meta S. Brown

To introduce you to the kinds of consumer information available through commercial suppliers, look at a detailed example. The table includes all the data collected about one consumer by Axciom, a major vendor of consumer marketing data. This vendor provides marketing data about individual consumers and the households in which those consumers live, as follows:

  • Individual consumers: For each individual, the vendor divides information into two data categories:

    • Characteristic: Demographics such as age, marital status, level of education attained, and whether the consumer has children. Data about household members that share the consumer’s last name may also be included here.

    • Home: Information about the consumer’s place of residence, whether it is a single family or multifamily dwelling, whether the consumer rents or owns, and the length of residence.

  • Households: The vendor tracks four categories of household data:

    • Vehicle: Details about car ownership and insurance, including number of vehicles, makes and models, and insurance renewal dates.

    • Economic: Information about the household’s financial activity. Estimated income, preferred spending methods and spending activity through various channels.

    • Purchases: Information about the household’s buying habits, online and offline. May include information about the types of products commonly purchased — categories, amounts, and frequencies.

    • Interests: Hobbies and other interests such as cooking, sports, and home improvement.

Sample Data from Axciom for One Individual
Date of Birth 01/23/1945
Gender Female
Education Completed Graduate School
Marital Status Single
Small or Home Business True
Home Information No Data Found
Auto Policy Renewal October
Estimated Household Income Range $75,000–$99,999
Presence of Credit Card Credit Card Holder–Unknown Type
Credit Card Use—American Express Regular
Credit Card Use—Discover Regular
Online Purchasing Activity True
Number of Purchases—Cash 2
Number of Purchases—Credit Card 1
Number of Purchases–AMEX 20
Number of Purchases—Discover 1
Number of Purchases—Visa 1
Number of Purchases—Other 11
Mail Order Responder Mail Order Responder
Mail Order Buyer Mail Order Buyer
Gardening Products Purchased
General Merchandise Purchased
Total Dollars Spent 1502
Total Number of Purchases 9
Average Dollars Spent Per Offline Purchase 157
Total Offline Dollars Spent 1394
Total Number of Offline Purchases 31
Total Offline Purchases—Under $50 25
Total Offline Purchases–$50–$99.99 6
Total Offline Purchases—$250–$499.99 1
Average Dollars Spent Per Online Purchase 101
Total Online Dollars Spent 304
Total Number of Online Purchases 3
Total Online Purchases—Under $50 3
Total Online Purchases—$50–$99.99 1
Total Online Purchases—$100–$249.99 2
Interests Fashion, Children’s Items, Cooking, Gourmet Cooking,
Health/Medical, Current Affairs/Politics, Crafts, Home
Furnishings/Decorating, Home Improvement, Gardening, Other Pet
Ownership, Reading, Reading Magazines, Aerobics

This is only a single example of the marketing data that is available for sale. (A few fields have been slightly altered for privacy reasons; otherwise the example includes all the complete data retrieved from Axciom.)

Another example — even one from the same supplier — might look different, with different fields, additional family information, or more accurate (or inaccurate) results. And even complete records may not count if the consumer opted out of data sharing.

You can explore some of the data that is being shared about you. The data presented in this example was provided by Axciom, a major vendor of consumer marketing data. Through its About the Data website, Axciom enables consumers to review their own data, get information about how the data is collected and used, edit the data, or opt out of data sharing.

Take a moment to think over the sources of information open to the data supplier. The supplier has to assemble its consumer marketing profiles from public or legally shareable private sources. Many data sources — personal paychecks, banking records, tax returns, and many others — are off limits. The example in the table was compiled from three types of sources:

  • Public sources: These include

    • Government information such as property and assessor’s files and license records

    • Publicly available sources such as telephone and online directories

  • Survey research: Surveys and questionnaires that consumers chose to fill out. Although data here is limited to those consumers who participated, it is sometimes used to estimate data for others.

  • Commercial opt-in data: Information collected by commercial sources who obtained an opt in (permission) from the consumer to use the data.

In the marketplace, any data about people is likely to be described as consumer marketing data, regardless of whether you are interested in the “consumer” aspect of this data, or whether you intend to use the data for marketing purposes. Be mindful of how you intend to use the data, though, and make sure that your agreements with the data supplier are compatible with the intended use.

These sources may have many imperfections. The data may be out of date. You may find errors or incomplete data. Individuals might not be properly matched to other household members. Just as you must assess the quality and suitability of your internal data sources for any given use, you must carefully evaluate commercial data sources as well.

But although you may be able to take action to improve the quality of an internal data source, you won’t likely have that option with a commercial source. If the quality of the data or the documentation is very poor, don’t waste money buying it. Look for alternate vendors, consider collecting your own data, or just live without it.