business news in context, analysis with attitude

Content Guy's Note: I've known Seth Mendelson - someone who is familiar to many of you in the retail/CPG world - for years. In fact, we both worked in the same newsroom, for the Rockland Journal-News, back in the late seventies; Seth was a sportswriter, and I covered county government and politics. I was reading a Facebook posting from Seth the other day that I thought smartly illustrated some of the problems that Target is having, and I asked him for permission to re-post it here. Seth kindly agreed, and here it is...

Have you been in a Target store recently?

Me either. That is, until yesterday, when a friend decided to buy a Target gift card for a recent college graduate and I went along for the ride. Not sure what her thinking was (does a 22-year old man shop Target?), but it is certainly good fodder for a blog.

Frankly, i was shocked by the condition of the store. Yes, it was a summer Sunday but the shelves throughout the unit were half-empty and messy and the place was simply chaotic. It looked like a department store on the day after Christmas, not a lazy, hot day in late June.

While she was shopping for the gift card and a graduation greeting card (which, amazingly, she never found: who would think to include graduation cards to the greeting card section in June!!!), I ventured over to the sporting goods department to see if I could pick up one or two of those little basketballs for my pool. The sporting goods section was all of three small aisles, and, besides some full-size basketballs and a smattering of other items, there was not much to it. There certainly were no mini-basketballs in the mix.

The rest of the store seemed like a barely-manageable mess, too, which got me thinking about the successful and long marketing program the chain used over the last decade to try to set it apart from the competition.

Walmart? That's for the huddled masses looking to save a buck. Sears? Why shop there unless you needed a new dishwasher or a power saw. Kmart? Let's not even go there.

Target supposedly stood apart from these other mass retailers, with clean stores, an upscale appearance and an assortment of product that made many feel they were getting a little more for their hard-earned dollars. Remember "cheap chic?" Cool TV ads, too.

Not so much anymore.

My guess is that with pressure mounting from both Walmart and Amazon, the Target brass in Minneapolis has adopted the never-successful strategy of saving a buck as the basis to return to glory. Of course, saving a buck usually means losing three bucks in sales, which makes the business try to save five bucks.

You know where this leads, right?

So my suggestion to the folks in the northland is to maybe invest some capital into their store operations and update the merchandise mix a bit. Amazon and Walmart are turning up the heat big time. Now is not the right time to sit back at headquarters and think you have it all figured out. You don't and all you have to do is walk into one of your own stores - particularly the one I visited - to get a clear picture of things.

Amazon is doing great on its own. No need to make their jobs even easier.
KC's View:
I do want to be fair about this.

First, I'm sure that not every Target store looks like this. But I've been in a bunch that do, and at a time when the company is under siege from so many directions, it really cannot afford to have any like this. If a customer visits one Target store like this, it informs their opinion of the entire chain ... and probably takes it off the list of viable shopping options for the foreseeable future.

Second, I'm reasonably sure that the folks at Target headquarters do not think they have it all figured out. It is simply not possible to have that level of denial. I think the bigger problem may be that they're simply not sure what to do, and at the very least are incapable of moving fast enough to make a difference. Remember what Tom Furphy has written on MNB in our "Innovation Conversation" series - that Amazon has a bias for action and has been incredibly fast at moving major initiatives (Amazon Fresh and Prime now, for example) from conception to launch.

I agree with Seth. Stores like this Target make it easy for Amazon ... and, by the way, for Walmart, Kroger and pretty much everybody else competing with Target.

BTW...if you'd like to reach out to Seth, you can reach him by email at palidog@optonline.net .