A pedestrian makes his way along the sidewalk in front of the Target store location at the Shopper's Mall. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)
I was one of the first people in Westman to welcome with open arms U.S. retailer Target. Like many shoppers in the area, I’ve visited Target stores in North Dakota, and thought big things were coming to Brandon with the arrival of the chain last year. Early indications were Target would be a monster. In the months leading up to the launch, Target held "surprise openings" in Toronto, where one-day-only shopping experiences were embraced by Canadians. In fact, many of the one-day sales were described as a "frenzy" with many items selling out.
In the end, our lukewarm reception to Target means a loss of $941 million for the chain in their first year. That’s knocking on the door of a billion dollars. So what happened? What went wrong, and what can Target and other stores teetering on the verge of extinction do to make things right with shoppers?
I’ve got some observations to share, but first, and for the record, I like Target. I will continue to shop at Target, but am open to shop more if the opportunity presents itself. I have never owned or operated a department store, and really have never worked in one. However I am a shopper, and have been for some time. And as the saying goes, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see there are some things that need to be changed.
The five listed below are not exclusive to Brandon. As Target prepares to open dozens of additional stores across the country in 2014, it’s wise to listen to shoppers like you and me so we can continue to support new and exciting businesses like Target today and down the road.
Here’s the five things I feel Target has to change and quick:
Just because you’re American doesn’t mean you’ll win here
This is a warning to other businesses that set up shop based in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. We’ve even had our fair share of Winnipeg success stories come to Brandon, set up shop and quickly fold because they were the big deal in other cities. Westman is not Winnipeg, and although Canadian and American shoppers are different, we expect the same experience on both sides of the border. And caution: while American shoppers may openly and brashly complain about high prices, Canadians are passive aggressive shoppers. We take great joy in silently leaving a store with high prices to "take our business elsewhere". Canadians seldom complain openly things are too expensive. They will simply and silently take their business to another store.
Empty shelves = frustrated customers
This is especially damaging when you’ve taken the time to advertise in the flyer, and tell everyone on radio, and then when we go to the store its not there. Now don’t get us wrong, we’re Canadians and we’re quick to forgive, especially if you tap into that passive-aggressive shopper I mentioned earlier. Further discount with rain check you say? Call me when it comes in you say? That’s a start. But it’s tough when I need the item now, and quite frankly it just looks bad. Especially when there is so much cross-border shopping today. Again: while Canadian and American shoppers differ, we DO want the same experience on both sides of the border. When we watch "The Big Bang Theory" on TV, the jokes are the same as if we watched the show in the USA. American Idol sings the same songs they do on the U.S. broadcast. If we only saw and heard Canadian songs, the show would fail. Please make our shopping experience as consistent as possible. My Big Mac in Minot tastes just like my Big Mac in Brandon.
Self checkout sucks
I hate the self-scan checkout in the supermarket or anywhere else for that matter. Why should I do all the work? I can never get it to work right either. It’s never seems to get it right on the first try, I always have to call over someone that works there to help me. Plus it takes away jobs from cashiers. I understand shopping carts need to stay in the store, but please reconsider accepting gift cards or gift certificates from the shopping centres you partner with.
Data breach scares us
That’s good you’ve given Canadians a year free credit monitoring, but have you told them? Your marketing in Canada is another comparative to the U.S. that doesn’t match. In the USA, I see slick, fast, clever ads that entertain, sometimes make me laugh, and often they’re just trendier than most other department store advertising. Nice job. But in Canada our version is Michael Buble selling his CD in the store. I know we’re in Canada, but we are not a nation watching Coronation Street and re-runs of the Beachcombers. Impress us. Again, taking a page from McDonald’s, use the same ads on both sides of the border. We know you’re not Canadian. We know you’re not Tim Horton’s. It’s ok. But face it, Wal-Mart isn’t either, and Canadians love their Wal-Mart. Which leads me to the fifth and final observation.
In U.S.A. it’s Target vs. Wal-Mart
Guess what? It’s the same here. MSNBC recently ran a documentary about Target, and what I found fascinating is how often the retailer openly shops at Wal-Mart each week. Secret shoppers across the USA going into "Wally World" to openly shop, get prices and report back to corporate in Minneapolis. How brazen I thought, yet it works for them. While I’m sure they keep an eye on their direct competitor in Canada, it’s also speculated they’re also watching stores like Canadian Tire, Giant Tiger, Shopper’s Drug Mart and Superstore to find their way in the Canadian landscape. My thought: don’t fight everyone in the bar, just fight the big guy. The rest will respect you, mind their own and if you’re lucky, won’t get into a tussle with you. But again, this is something you know already, because you’re doing it in the lower 48.
I find this exercise in economics rather fascinating. And while many Americans purchase the cheapest goods based on price. I like to think Canadians pay based on value. At the end of the day, buying stuff is actually a science. Some stores are tracking your every move to perfect the shopping experience, make it easier to find what you’re looking for, and to capitalize on each and every visit by having you part with more and more of your money. But in the end, you have the power, because it’s the shopper who calls the shots. And time will tell who’s listening and who is not.
JOKE THIS WEEK
A guy was walking along the beach, found a bottle, and picked it up. A magical genie popped out and said, "Thanks for letting me out. For your kindness I will grant you one wish." The guy said, "I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii, but I can’t because I’m afraid to fly and ships make me deathly sick. My wish is for you to build a highway from here to Hawaii." The genie replied, "I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can do that. Just think of all the work involved. Think of the huge pilings we would need to hold up that highway and how deep they would have to be to reach the bottom of the ocean. And think of all the cement that would be needed. Plus, since it’s such a long span, there would have to be gas stations and rest stops along the way.
No, that’s just too much to ask. Impossible. Think of another wish."
The guy thought for a moment and said, "Well, there is one thing I’ve always wanted to know. I’d like to be able to understand women — what makes them laugh and cry, why are they so temperamental, why are they so difficult to get along with — you know, what makes them tick?"
The genie thought for a second, then asked, "Do you want that highway with two lanes or four?"
Louise Torr Hoad
Tia Marie Bresky
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 15, 2014