Thursday, April 02, 2015

Target Lost.

Today was the end of Target's operations in Saskatoon.  The Mall at Lawson Heights store closed yesterday.  The Centre at Circle and 8th store will end operations tonight.  I went to the latter last night, assuming it would be less busy than today.  Frankly it looked almost like a riot had taken place.  Most of what was left was clothing, and much of that was scattered around the store.  From the looks of it some stuff was dropped by customers who decided at the last minute not to buy things.  This seems consistent with news reports about other Target outlets, with employees noting piggish behaviour by would be customers.(I'm probably insulting pigs by saying that.)

Target likely holds as much of the blame as the customers do.  I was in those same stores when Zellers, the previous holder of those spaces, closed their doors in 2013.  Even at the very end the Zellers stores looked neater that what I saw yesterday.  It seemed as if some of the employees were still willing to put some effort at making a good impression.  Perhaps the difference then was that Zellers had generated loyalty in both its customers and its employees, and Target's Canadian operations never managed to do that.

I've never been to an American Target store, but there were multiple news reports that Canadian buyers didn't find the experience the same, or the prices as low.  This strikes me as naïve on their part.  Surely some of these people must have visited Walmarts in the US, and noticed the Canadian ones weren't clones of the American stores, especially when it came to price.  Operating in Canada is always going to be a bit more expensive than the US, even when the Canadian dollar is closer to the US one, as it was when Target opened.

In the end though Target's disastrous Canadian foray was the result of their own mistakes.  Reports indicated an inability to understand the Canadian market, and an unwillingness to change their ways until it was too late, which seems odd.  You'd think someone at Target would have realised the value of hiring former or even current Walmart executives, given the latter's long and successful operations in Canada.  Along with price complaints the most commonly heard criticism of Target was their lack of selection, which was obvious even to the casual customer, and which they never managed to correct.  To me at least the Saskatoon stores lacked any sort of energy that would encourage customers to become regular patrons.  This was a result of that lack of selection and other things, like the absence of any sort of music or customer information from an in store PA system.  They may also have hurt themselves with their unwillingness to offer previous Zellers employees preference in hiring for the new stores, people familiar with the markets they were serving.

Given how poorly they did in Canada, a country with strong cultural similarities to the US, and a common language, English, spoken in most of the country, I hate to think they might have done if they'd picked a non-English market as their first expansion attempt.  Target's foreign expansion plans are likely to remain on the back burner for a long time to come given what has happened here.

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