Monday, March 30, 2015

Beer and Nappies Data Mining Urban Legend

Greetings from the Menzies Hotel, where Dr Roger Clarke is speaking on Risk Management for Big Data Projects to the Australian Computer Society. He mentioned the story of "Beer and Nappies", where it is said a data mining exercise for a retail chain found that those who buy nappies also buy beer, these being new fathers. Roger mentioned he had not been able to track down the source of this story. I got as far as finding "Beer and Nappies: A Data Mining Urban Legend" by Donald Fisk (December 1997), who attributes the story to Doug Alexander, April, 1997. Another reference was The Times (1996): ".... Ever since a data warehousing system correctly told an American retailer that putting beer and nappies next to one another on a supermarket aisle would increase...".

Then there is Daniel J. Power's "What is the "true story" (in DSS News, D. J. Power,  November 10, 2002), about using data mining to identify a relation between sales of beer and diapers?",

"In 1992, Thomas Blischok, manager of a retail consulting group at Teradata, and his staff prepared an analysis of 1.2 million market baskets from about 25 Osco Drug stores. Database queries were developed to identify affinities. The analysis "did discover that between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. that consumers bought beer and diapers". Osco managers did NOT exploit the beer and diapers relationship by moving the products closer together on the shelves. This decision support study was conducted using query tools to find an association. The true story is very bland compared to the legend."




Reference:
The beer and nappy revolution; Focus.(Features). (1996-06-05). In The Times (London, England). 43.

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