Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Review: Toronto Shopkeeper Shops Target

Does Target Hit the Bullseye?

Location: Target – Cloverdale Mall (250 The East Mall, Etobicoke, ON)

You would have to be living under a rock to have avoided the media hype surrounding the launch of American discount retailer Target. After acquiring Zellers store leases from the Hudson’s Bay Company two years ago, Target announced plans for 125-135 Canadian locations, with the first batch opening this spring. In March a selected number of stores had soft openings ahead of the official grand opening. Customer opinions were mixed. While many welcomed the addition of a new retailer into the Canadian marketplace, others bemoaned the fact that Target’s prices in Canada were higher than in its American stores.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Target Canada’s CEO Tony Fisher explained that pricing would be in line with Canadian competitors and re-iterated the company’s manta of “Expect More. Pay Less.” With Canada’s vast geography, scattered population, and increasing fuel costs, customers can expect to always pay a little more than their American neighbours. Target has stood out on price with an innovated loyalty program called “Red Card” that allows customers to save 5% on most items.

One of the visible ways that Target has tried to differentiate itself from its main discount rival Walmart is by a “focus on design.” Through collaborations with brands as varied as Liberty of London and Jason Wu, Target has created much coveted limited edition collections that sell out and create design credibility.

Ahead of its store openings, Target had instituted an all-encompassing promotional campaign. A ubiquitous TV spot with Dragonette singing the theme to Mr Rogers’ Neighbourhood was whimsical and catchy and was matched with billboards and streetcar advertising.

But how does all of this translate into a customer experience? Toronto Shopkeeper visited the Target at Cloverdale Mall (both during the soft opening and after the grand opening) to find out.

Design: The store design is bright and airy and covered in the signature Target red (not dissimilar from Zellers red). The lightweight shopping carts are made of recycled plastic and are a dream to steer around the store's wide aisles. In the beauty department the shelves are illuminated and bright but the gondolas are toweringly tall; if they were as low as those housing small appliances the department would feel more inviting. The electronics department was engaging with devices appealingly displayed and inviting customers to play (the televisions were playing a looped video of the Dragonette commercial, which must at some point drive the staff bonkers). The cute Target Hearts Canada logo was prominently featured at the main entrance.

Merchandise: Target does noticeably channel its energies into design. The home collections were particularly impressive, providing affordable and moderately priced accessories and housewares. The food department is stocked via an arrangement with Sobeys, though it pales in comparison to the food on offer at Walmart’s Supercentres. The Archer Farms private brand stands out as Target’s version of President’s Choice. Unfortunately in clothing the selection is anaemic and uninspired. A collaboration with Roots was well picked over, and there was little else to catch the eye.

During the store’s soft opening, many fixtures were left with bare patches and signs proclaiming the store a work in progress.

Service: While it’s sometimes hard to gauge customer service at a big-box retailer, sales associates (“team members” in Target speak) were numerous and helpfully answered all queries. While using the self-checkout an associate was very eager to help with ringing in the purchase (which I couldn’t help thinking defeated the purpose).

Online: Currently there is no e-commerce on target.ca. The website features informative content and there are also Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter pages.

Grade: A solid 70%
Lost marks for: the mediocre basics in the clothing departments, and the flury of bad PR around pricing.
Gained marks for: friendly helpful staff, stylish and affordable home collections, and great branding.