business news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, when commenting about a Wall Street Journal story about Target's challenges, I wrote:

Granted, I've hardly scratched the surface when it comes to visiting Target stores, but for me, the flavor that overwhelmingly comes to mind when I think about them is vanilla.  They're okay, but just okay, and just okay isn't enough these days.

I'm sure other folks have had a different experience with Target, and I'd like to hear about it.  Because I'm not sure how quickly the company can turn its prospects around by creating a shopping experience with edge - or even if it should.  Maybe it is just a waiting game.

Apparently, my experience is not so unique.

MNB reader James Green wrote:

Your piece about Target being "vanilla" is right on. It's too bad the stores aren't as hip as their TV spots. On the other hand, as a long time Twin Cities resident, I have to say the customer service is a high point.

From another MNB reader:

Target is struggling across the board, as you note in the original post. Yet, rather than work with suppliers strategically, they are making broad-stroke demands on minimum digital spending with the entire supplier base. It doesn’t feel like a partnership anymore and they are making demands on an already lackluster omni presence to drive sales. As a result, the mid-tier CPGs are choosing to invest in partnerships elsewhere that drive profitable sales growth, with mutual ROIs for each party.

And from another:

I agree with what you are seeing.  Also I am seeing that Target is going for margin and not being as competitive on pricing in a lot of categories in which they used to be.  They have taken pricing higher than what has been recommended and are just not as competitive.  They run some great promotions, but those promotions cost the suppliers dearly from a funding standpoint as the cost to participate keeps going up.  I think they have lost their way a little and hopefully they can get their “mojo” back and do what they do best.

And another:

In my opinion their website seems to be horrible compared to other retailers from an ease of shipping perspective.  I had a small gift card someone had given me a few years ago for there. I figured I’d order a few things online and just have them shipped to me.  Well, the items I needed some weren’t available to be shipped (they were all small things) and some couldn’t be shipped to store and some couldn’t be ordered online - only picked up in store.  It was a mess.  I remember I had to buy a huge bag of gum just to get the things shipped to me to meet some random threshold they had- then Target actually shipped all the items to me separately and it took like 2 weeks to arrive (way too long)!  Needless to stay I refuse to shop their website- I’ll stick with Amazon or Wal-Mart. 

Also- every time I go in the store and shop the grocery section I feel like the categories have the oddest stuff compared to other regular grocery food retailers.  I think they give bonuses to their category managers on carrying stuff no one else carries.  A few years ago I walked in to grab something like some mixed nuts I needed for a recipe.  I remember going to the nut section and finding one variety of mixed nuts!  I’m not a nut expert, but in my mind- mixed nuts are probably a top seller in the category but for some reason my local store had only variety but plenty of other weird stuff like 6 types of flavored pistachios (you know the strong demand for chili flavored pistachios!).  It seems like every category has that same experience- odd stuff that’s cool to have but they carry it at the expense of normal top sellers. 

MNB reader David Fischer wrote:

I worked at Target during my college days in the 90s. The conditions you see in-store today would have gotten the managers fired back then. We had a no pallets on the floor policy. Today, pallets block aisles. We had to face the entire store each night before we could go home. Today, the store isn't faced at all. Out of stocks are out of control storewide. The worst part is only having one or two cashiers working during peak hours. I know they are relying increasingly on self-checkout but when most stores only have 4 machines and often one or more is out of service, it's a terrible customer experience. I often see 20-30 people waiting to checkout. Either go all in on self-checkout with 12+ machines or staff the registers. As a manager once taught me, when a customer is ready to hand you their money, make it easy to do so. 

The worst part is the move into food. What the heck is the strategy here? The prices are generally higher than other stores. You hide the food in the back of the store. There's nothing special in their assortment. Fresh foods are terrible. If food was important to Target, they would move it up to the front with a beautiful produce display right as you walked in the door. The Target of the 90s and early 2000s should be crushing it today. But they're not.  

I am reminded that when supercenters and hypermarkets first started opening up here in the US, Walmart and Kmart both jumped into the fray.  I spent a lot of time in both formats, and Kmart's was superior.  But as we all know, competitive advantages rarely last forever.

And yet another:

I have been a Red Card owner for almost 15 years, but have been using it less and less over the years.  I just moved my prescriptions from their in-store CVS, mainly due to poor service - low staffing, long lines at the pharmacy.  My local CVS is much better staffed.  Out of stocks continue, with huge empty spaces in almost all departments forcing me to shop elsewhere.  Other retailers have shown far more success in improving their stock and staffing since covid than Target.  I can only look at their management as the source of their problems.  Too bad.

Speaking of CVS, a company that I've lambasted frequently here, one MNB reader wrote:

Just a shout out to my CVS at 452 Mamaroneck Ave in White Plains.  Got to do my cancer adventure during Covid and had and still do a number of visits to this pharmacy.  It could not be a better experience.  Unfortunately they know me by my first name, but could not be any friendlier, prompt and informative. 

Do not wish to see any service department understaffed since it hurts the employees and customers, but wanted to share that my experience and the way this particular CVS has managed the issue is tremendous

Sometimes the exception proves the rule.  But most importantly, I trust that you have gotten through your health difficulties and come out on the other side.  Take care.

On the subject of self-checkout, one MNB reader wrote:

I recently moved 10 miles north to Cave Creek AZ.  I was for 29 years in Scottsdale. 

Both shopping experiences are Frys.   I can tell you I knew everyone at my last address.  No way would I do self check out. 

And now? These folks up here have made it it feel like a small town.  Everyone knows their shoppers.  And we know them. In less than 2 years.

I despise self check out.

Good for you and good for those stores.  That's why retailers should offer options.

One MNB reader apparently has a problem with my constant references to business lessons from various scenarios:

I'm  not  anti Business Lesson.

What I do wonder is it always about a business lesson? Maybe it's an individual who sees something different. Or a company.  Is that a business lesson for everyone else to follow or pursue?

Take my or your personal life. If you fill your spouse or children with " lessons" business or personal and try to guide them accordingly,  maybe you take their own "learning " lessons away from them.

Well probably too deep or philosophy related to contemplate. 

As we learn to adapt and improve,  I just think it's what we do. It's not always a business lesson as we're individuals. And some of those are leading major companies.

Just a thought. 

Finding business lessons everywhere is sort of my brand.   Sometimes they are specific, sometimes metaphorical - but I believe in lessons.  (Probably why I enjoyed teaching at Portland State so much.)

You come to MNB, that's what you're going to get.  For the record, in almost 22 years of doing this, yours is the first complaint I've ever gotten about this issue.  (Maybe there will be a groundswell of complaints now that you've registered yours.  In which case I'll have to consider changing my brand.  Or retirement.)

I will concede one thing - more than a few times as they were growing up, my kids went to their mother as asked if I always had to make everything a learning moment.

The answer, alas, was yes, he does.

And finally, from another MNB reader:

Reading the article about Mondelez potentially cutting back on the crème filling, I love that Mrs. Content Guy makes you an Oreo ice cream cookie cake!    My mother used to always make those for my birthday (in January no less) and I never knew anyone else even knew what they were!  Made me smile!

Mrs. Content Guy makes the best Oreo ice cream cakes - always for my birthday, and usually for one or two of the kids' birthdays, depending on who is around and what they requested.  It is one of the best things about getting old.