Off Target

Image of Target logo It's no secret that I was disappointed when Zellers opted to leave the Canadian retail landscape, and announced they were selling off their store leases to Target (the second largest discount retail chain in the United States) for a tidy $1.8 billion. Of course what followed the news of Target's invasion were claims that "the discount giant's affordable designer lines and apparel ... of noted interest to style-savvy consumers" would transform the retail industry as existing retailers struggle with fresh challenges. The benefit of a mere two years history reveals that Target's impact on the Canadian retail industry was a bigger non-event than the Y2K computer panic.

Admittedly, the media hype sparked my curiosity. And while I wasn't one of the trolls who waited for hours, braving the elements outside, waiting for the doors of the store to open, Nancy and I did manage to pop by about a week after they opened to check out the new kid on the block. What we discovered was, in a word: disappointing. Though I could describe, in some detail, a number of reasons why Target, in my view, receives a failing grade, my views are likely best outlined by what happened when we left the store. As we were leaving, I was approached by a young woman with a tablet and a clipboard and asked if I'd be willing to participate in a customer satisfaction survey. I found it interesting that she'd assume I was a customer since I hadn't purchased anything. A customer is someone who purchases something, or it's a person who will return with the intent of purchasing something. I was neither. Recognizing that survey participation has, built within it, a certain amount of entertainment value, I agreed. "This should prove interesting," I thought to myself.

The interviewer proceeded to ask me a series of questions, always requiring answers based on a Likert scale, and always intended to solicit information on my Target experience. "On a scale of one to five," she began, "one being very dissatisfied, two being somewhat dissatisfied, three being neither dissatisfied nor satisfied, four being somewhat satisfied and five being very satisfied, how would you rate your overall experience at Target today?"

This was going to be easy I thought. "One!" I asserted confidently. "Very dissatisfied." Only a casual observer might have been able to intuit where this survey was headed. "On a scale of one to five", she continued, "one being very unlikely, two being unlikely, three being neither unlikely nor likely, four being likely, and five being very likely, how likely are you to shop at Target in the future?"

"I'm sorry," I replied, "I'm not able to answer the question because 'never' is not an option you've presented ne with." There was a long pause and it became obvious she wasn't familair with a response that actually had some thought behind it. "Can we put very unlikely then?" she asked. "You can check off whatever box you want," I replied, "but it still doesn't change the fact that I won't be shopping here in the future." Clearly she didn't understand the significance of asking leading questions. "Okay," I said, "There's one bullet in the chamber of a revolver. I'm going to spin the barrel, and you're going to put the pistol to your temple and squeeze the trigger. On a scale of one to five, with one being very unlikely, two being unlikely, three being neither unlikely nor likely, four being likely and five being very likely, wouldn't you want the option of zero.. not at all?" She had to think for a moment and for an instance I thought I heard the hamster wheel spinning. "Well I wouldn't put a pistol to my head and squeeze the trigger," she said. "That's exactly my point," I replied, "and about the only way I'd shop here again in the future is if someone did put a gun to my head." I think it was starting to sink in.

"On a scale of one to five," she asked, "one being very dissatisfied, two being dissatisfied, three being neither dissatisfied nor satisfied, four being satisfied and five being very satisfied, how would you rate the selection of fashion items in our store?" "Why are you asking questions that are impossible to answer?" I asked. "What do you mean?", she asked, pausing momentarily, then continued. "Impossible to answer? Why is that impossible to answer?"

Now she was being difficult. "Look," I explained. "You asked to what degree I was pleased with the selection of fashion items at Target. The question presupposes that Target actually have a selection to choose from. I did look in Men's Wear for some coloured cotton T-shirts. I wear a large. You had blue ones. There were also red T-shirts but they were all medium. The concept of selection requires choice between two items. Being able to choose to purchase a blue T-shirt or another blue T-shirt does not constitute a selection." I could sense a bit of frustration on her part. "So you're very dissatisfied with the selection then?" It was clear that I wasn't getting through yet.

"Okay, try this then," I said, pausing momentarily to formulate an analogy. "You go into a restaurant whose signs boast a large selection of dining choices. But when you are actually given the menu, you discover that there's only one item on the menu. Baked beans on toast. You can order baked beans on toast, or you can order toast with baked beans on them. Does that constitute a selection?" She looked puzzled. "You're weird," she said. "I'm not weird," I said. "You're the one asking all the strange questions that can't be answered. You want accurate information for your survey, don't you? How can I answer a question about your selection when you haven't got any items to select from?"

"What about our prices?" she asked. "On a scale of one to five, one being very dissatisfied, two being dissatisfied, three being neither dissatisfied nor satisfied..." I interrupted her. "Now that one I can answer because you have prices. I am dissatisfied. I would have expected a discount retailer to actually have lower prices. Your prices seem slightly higher on several items. Sunlight dish soap. It's a buck ninety-nine at Shoppers. $3.29 here."

She must have thought we were on a roll. "On a scale of one to five, one being very dissatisfied, two being dissatisfied, three be.." "I get the picture," I interjected, "with five being very satisfied." "Yes," she continued, "how would you rate our wide and spacious aisles?" Oh shit. Here we go again I thought. "Your aisles are wide and spacious because the store is half empty. And, I might add, if they were less wide and spacious, you'd have more selection."

Now I'm not sure how many questions were actually on her survey, but she flipped though several pages on the tablet and then said "There's a section for comments here. Do you have any positive feedback you would like to share with us?" Gawds, now she was going for the jugular. Positive feedback? What in the hell could I possibly say that was positive about the experience I had just had in Target? "Well," I said, "I really like your shopping carts. They're easy to manoeuvre down your wide and spacious aisles. And they're very light too because the one I was pushing was empty. I'd likely have put a few things in it if there had been more selection. But there wasn't, so it remained empty. I did find it to be a perfect height for resting on though. Very ergonomic. I'll probably use the less comfortable ones at WalMart though. And I'll be forced to navigate their narrow and cumbersome aisles overwhelmed by the large selection of men's cotton T-shirts."

It's unfortunate she didn't write any of that down because I thought my commentary not only witty, but pretty much summed up my views on Target and why I felt they wouldn't be around very long. "As a thank you for taking our survey" she said, "here's a five dollar gift card." I was stunned. She handed me a Target Gift Card. "You see what I mean?" I said, holding the gift card up in the air. "This is exactly what I'm talking about. One of the very first questions you asked me was how likely I was to shop at Target in the future. Are you trying to skew the data so you can change my answer from 'never' to 'quite unlikely'?"

It was at that point that she burst out laughing as she realized that my answers were an honest attempt at expressing my utter dissatisfaction with Target. We actually had a reasonable conversation after that and I expressed the view that Target fell way short of my expectations. I indicated that the Canadian shopper couldn't be duped by the two clothing gals, Polly and Ester, and that they were selling third class product at quality prices. "If they don't change their model," I said, "they'll be gone faster than Joe Fontana can reach for a bottle of white out."

There's a reason why Target employees wear those red shirts. In the original Star Trek series, have you ever notice that anyone wearing a red shirt is expenditable and doesn't seem to stick around very long? Well, that's precisely what the future holds for Target Canada. Target has announced that its Canadian experiment has ended horribly and that liquidation sales will proceed throughout its Canadian holdings after the court appoints "a liquidator as part of its bankruptcy protection process". Although their location at Billings Bridge Plaza which opened in the fall of 2013 remains open, it will, in the not too distant future, be a forgotten blot on the landscape; an American giant slain on the frozen Canadian tundra.

"Adios Target... and take your spacious aisles with a lack of selection with you."

Submitted by Jeff Dubois, 31 December 2014