Facebook Now Helps Advertisers Target People Who Visited Their Real-World Stores

Image courtesy of Ben Schumin

Most of us are no longer surprised to see that our online ads are sometimes directly related to websites we’ve recently visited. An even more invasive practice would be for you to go online and be bombarded with ads for a bricks-and-mortar store you just shopped at. Nevertheless, Facebook is now letting online advertisers target users based on their offline movements.

Facebook already allowed advertisers to target incredibly narrow segments of the platform’s two billion global users; an advertiser could winnow its audience down to just one person if it’s patient enough. But advertisers naturally want to strike a balance: cast as wide a net as possible among people who are likely to respond to the ad. And who better to be likely to buy your stuff than someone who’s already got a proven history of physically visiting your stores?

How does it work?

A screenshot provided to Marketing Land shows a new option under the tool that allows advertisers to create a custom audience:

Provided by Moshe Isaacian to Marketing Land.

In addition to importing a customer file (i.e. uploading a database of members in your loyalty program) or selecting based off of people who have visited or ordered from your website, a new feature, “Store Visits,” now appears.

Marketing Land suggests one scenario where advertisers might use the feature: Let’s say you visit a department store — your basic Kohl’s, JC Penney, and so on — during the back-to-school shopping season.

That store wants to target its back-to-school parent-shoppers with specific ads for the holiday season, and get them back through the doors to buy presents and holiday outfits. So it runs a set of targeted ad campaigns.

One runs to women ages 30-50 who shopped at the store during back-to-school and have children in, let’s say, preschool or elementary school. That ad pushes certain kinds of toys and outfits.

Another runs to women ages 30 to 50 who shopped at the store during back-to-school and have children in high school or college. That ad may push gift cards, or accessories, instead of children’s toys. Either way, the store can try to reach all of its potential customers right where they, specifically, are.

The option is still in testing and not very widespread yet, Marketing Land notes — the site became aware of it from a screenshot one advertiser tweeted.

A spokesperson for Facebook told Marketing Land, “We’re always exploring new ways to help marketers drive offline value from their ads, but have nothing new to announce at this time.”

Can I opt out?

Unfortunately, there is no way to currently opt out of just this specific setting, but you do have some control over how narrowly Facebook advertisers can target you, and through using other settings you can basically opt out of this kind of targeting (and almost every other kind, too).

For starters, if Facebook doesn’t know where you are or have been, then it can’t tell advertisers you’ve been in their stores. You can change the permissions Facebook has to access and use your location data in the app’s settings.

The relevant screen looks like this on Android:

And like this on iOS:


You can also go to your Facebook ads preferences page and see — or make changes to — what Facebook determines your interests and demographic subgroups are.

Under the “your information” setting of your ad preferences, you can also set whether or not Facebook is allowed to target you based on key demographic information that you supplied or it guessed. That includes things you probably put in your profile, like your relationship status, your employer, and your education. It also includes more granular categories Facebook puts together on its own, like, “Anniversary in 61-90 days” or “Close friends of expats with a birthday in 7-30 days.”

(Both of those examples are real.)

That said, your online and offline presences are continuing to be merged anyway, whether you want them to or not. Stores and entire malls use location beacons to see where you’re shopping and beam deals at you, and all of that gets matched to your phone number. And an organization that wants to can link all that with your credit card spending — to say nothing of the role that loyalty programs and dedicated retailer apps play in all this.

About the only way to avoid all of it completely is to turn off your phone before you go anywhere and pay cash for all purchases — a pair of conditions fewer of us every year are likely to meet.

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