Research companies are tracking you every time you swipe your grocery store card, buy a newspaper subscription or purchase a car.
The city of Galt is hoping to use this information to its advantage by hiring a company to compile data that will help identify national retailers that Galt should be courting.
Since 1994, Buxton Company has matched retailers with cities offering favorable demographics. In 2002, the company started working with cities to provide information that municipalities can use to attract retailers.
Galt hired the firm at a meeting in March to evaluate the entire city and provide specific retail recommendations for Old Town, Lincoln Way, a commercial center on Simmerhorn Drive, and a commercial center at Highway 99 and Twin Cities Road.
Councilwoman Barbara Payne said it is even more important for a city of Galt's size to be pro-active because it is competing with two larger cities, Elk Grove and Lodi.
"Businesses are being very conservative, and they are not willing to take a risk. We need to be more convincing when we ask them to consider Galt," Payne said.
The main goal is to teach communities to look at their consumer bases the same way that retailers look at them, said Lisa Hill, vice president of Buxton's CommunityID.
"When you proactively go after a retailer, they know you are going to streamline the process, you are retail-friendly and you are not going to create barriers of entry," she said.
The company receives information from credit bureaus, warranties, media subscriptions and store rewards cards.
City planner Sandra Kiriu said she was surprised to find out how much the company can uncover about residents' shopping habits.
"It's amazing what they know about everybody. Every time you swipe your Safeway card, they are gleaning a lot of information from you, and putting it into a database. They know what kind of cheese you like," Kiriu said.
The information can also be used to make sure current retailers are stocking items that consumers are likely to buy, Hill said. The company divides businesses into 32 categories — including automotive, apparel, and food and beverages — and then provides each category with 4,800 different line items specific to brands.
So Buxton will figure out if Galt residents prefer Grey Goose or Absolut vodka, or Nike versus Adidas shoes, Hill said.
While retailers do their own research, they have many options when considering possible locations, she said.
"Hope is not a strategy. Just because they are expanding doesn't mean they are looking at you. It's becoming more common that communities are more pro-active in their recruitment strategy," she said.
When stores look at communities, size is a factor, Hill said. But more importantly, a retailer wants to know how many people will likely shop at their store or dine at their restaurant.
A Buxton assessment will give potential retailers an idea of the likelihood that Galt residents will embrace their store.
"You can talk to a retailer not about size, but dollars available to them. It gives Galt an opportunity to not reinforce (the idea) that they are too small," Hill said. She hopes this will help Galt attract some basic businesses.
"The higher the gasoline, the more important that's going to be. It's a service we owe to people to be able to shop in town," Payne said.