WASHINGTON (AP) — It's a big question for marketers: What kind of a buyer are you? And, as important, what are you willing to pay?
In the search for answers this shopping season, consumer behavior online and off is being tracked aggressively with help from advances in technology.
And it can happen whether buyers are on their work computers, mobile devices or just standing in the grocery aisle. The data can be connected with other personal information like income, ZIP code and when a person's car insurance expires.
Retailers say these techniques help customize shopping experiences and can lead to good deals for shoppers. Consumer advocates say aggressive tracking and profiling also opens the door to price discrimination, with companies charging someone more online or denying them entirely based on their home price or how often they visit a site.
"You can't have Christmas any more without big data and marketers," said Jeff Chester, executive director at the Center for Digital Democracy. "You know that song where Santa knows when you've been sleeping? He knows when you're awake? Believe me, that's where he's getting his information from."
Consumer tracking has long been a part of American consumerism. Retailers push shoppers to sign up for loyalty cards, register purchased items for warranty programs and note ZIP codes to feed their mailing lists. Online stores and advertising services employ browser "cookies," the tiny bits of software code that can track a person's movements across the Internet, to analyze shoppers and present them with relevant pop-up ads.
More recently, marketers have developed increasingly sophisticated ways to combine offline and online data that creates detailed profiles of shoppers. They also are perfecting location-tracking technology as a means of attracting new customers and influencing shoppers as they wander through brick-and-mortar stores.
Madrid - We're not actually talking about going back in time here, but Spanish lawmakers proposed on Thursday switching the country to a more appropriate time zone to make sleeping and eating times more regular, workers more productive.
Spanish time currently runs one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in winter, and two hours ahead of GMT in summer. This applies to the whole country with the exception of the Canary Islands out in the Atlantic ocean.
The country lies on the same geographical timelines as neighboring Portugal and also the UK, but clocks in Spain are operating on the same time as France and Germany.
Turns out this is because the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco's fascist government adopted it to be in line with Nazi Germany, and it has remained that way ever since.
According to Intereconomia (Spanish language) in 1942, at the beginning of World War II, the United Kingdom and Portugal decided to change their clocks into the same zone as Western Europe for military reasons. Franco, of course, did so out of sympathy for Hitler.
However, when the war ended, the United Kingdom and Portugal returned to their original time zones. Spain remained where it was and ever since then lives an hour ahead in winter and two in summer.
A report presented to the Spanish Parliament on Thursday read:
"The fact that Spain for more than 71 years has not been in the correct time zone causes us to get up too early and sleep on average one hour less than the time recommended by the World Health Organization."
Adding that, "This negatively affects productivity, causing absences from work, stress, accidents and school drop-outs."
The report continued by recommending several measures, including "evaluating the cost and consequences of returning to the western European time zone which was in force in Spain before 1942."
According to the report, the zone discrepancy explains why Spaniards eat, leave work and go to bed later than their neighbors in surrounding Europe:
"Our timetable is determined more by the sun than by the clock. We eat at one o'clock in the afternoon and dine at eight, according to the sun, but the clock says it is three o'clock and 10 o'clock."
The report figures that by shifting the time zone, Spain would have "more time for the family, for training, for personal life and leisure and would avoid wasted time during the workday."
"The results would bring us into line with Europe in many respects in which we currently differ, particularly in productivity and competitiveness, in having a balanced family life and in sharing family duties."
According to the Local, Spain's only exception to the time zone, the Canary Islands say they want things to stay as they are.
Apparently the decision for the Canary Islands to stay in the same time zone as London was made by King Alfonso XIII in 1922. The King was responding to pressure from the UK, who had a large commercial trade network in the islands at that time.
The President of the Canary Islands, Paulino Rivero, is quoted as saying the clocks should always be an hour behind the rest of Spain as that guarantees free advertising for the Canaries.
Rivero says that when anyone tunes into the Spanish news on TV or the radio, when the clock strikes the hour, a familiar phrase comes up: "One hour less in the Canaries".
Rivero wrote in his blog (Spanish) recently that the islands would "lose their constant mention" in Spain’s media if the clocks stood at the same time as on the mainland.
"How much is it worth in advertising terms to be mentioned every hour in mainland Spain’s media?" he argued. "How much would we lose if no reference was made to the Canaries any longer?"