Why Target Missed the Mark in Canada

Photo Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Photo Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Today Target announced that it will close all 133 of its Canadian locations just two years after its rapid expansion into the market.

I live really close to a Target store, and saw for myself how disappointing their performance was. Sadly, we kind of saw this coming. The business experts all have their own analyses but here’s what I saw, plain and simple.

Too Much, Too Fast

Target entered the Canadian market by buying up most of the remaining Zellers locations from the Hudson Bay Company (HBC), who had bought up the struggling discount chain years earlier. This apparently worked for Walmart when it first sprang into Canada in 1994, so I suppose this seemed like a great strategy on paper.

But to take on Walmart and compete for the hard-earned loonies and toonies of Canadians in such a rapid and enormous expansion, Target would have to bring its A game to the fight. As everyone is well aware, Walmart is a force to contend with.

Unfortunately, the follow through just wasn’t there.

Lack of Selection, Lack of Stock

I don’t relish shopping at Walmart. I know their labour practices are appalling and tend to feel guilty even walking in. I much prefer to support local businesses, small shops, and I took the Handmade Pledge dammit (that used to be a thing).

But to their credit, of all the random things I’ve ever decided to buy, my chances of finding those items at Walmart have been pretty good. It’s a great place to find those things you don’t know you’ll need until you need them.

It’s still kind of amazing to me that you can walk into one store and come out with a meat thermometer, a selection of craft supplies, a set of power tools, a couch slipcover, a grooming brush for your favourite furry animal, and a week’s worth of groceries. You will probably even find a wide selection of brands for each item you buy.

Target disappointed already-loyal Walmart shoppers in Canada because they didn’t manage to match Walmart’s enormous selection of stuff. Even if you were really lucky and they had the kind of item you wanted, the selection was pretty dismal.

And the only thing worse than not finding what you were looking for is finding that the item you want is out of stock. Every single time.

Photo credit: Belus Capital via Huffington Post

Photo credit: Belus Capital via Huffington Post

The sunglasses display at my local Target has had the same three lonely pairs of shades on an otherwise empty set of display stands for several months. You almost want to buy up the last few pairs out of pity for the little guys.

Overpricing

My first and only Target experience in the US was a cross-border shopping trip where I bought an armload of cheapo skirts and tops for $4 each. I was pretty thrilled. I still have one of the skirts actually, surprisingly it’s lasted me for many years.

So I was pretty surprised when the prices at Target in Canada were nowhere near as affordable as they were in the US. They were also well above Walmart’s prices, and I think that’s what was really disappointing to Canadians.

This past summer I went into Target to look for a swimsuit and, out of a handful of styles that I’d consider wearing, I found a two-piece set I wanted to try on. Then I noticed that the $30 price tag was for the top part only, and the bottoms had to be bought separately. “Where am I, The Bay?” I thought to myself and put it back on the rack.

It’s Not all Bad

To be fair though, Target did have some nice things going for it.

The store environment is, in my opinion, much more pleasant than any Walmart. It’s bright and clean, feels less like a danky warehouse, and hey, there are even free cart wipes for all the budget-conscious germaphobes out there.

Rather than an in-store McDonalds they offer a mini Starbucks. I know Starbucks is another source of pure evil, but it’s also a good source of the sugar-loaded high-calorie caffeinated beverages that I need to drink because they’re so freakin’ tasty.

And although it’s a sad sign of the company’s flop, I really enjoy that unlike the Walmart and Costco madhouses, Target remains quiet and uncrowded. Like, just a few days before Christmas it got “busy,” and they had to open maybe three whole checkouts instead of the usual one. The insanity.

I do feel very sad for the thousands of workers who will lose their jobs because of the company’s mismanagement of the expansion. Hopefully they’ll all get first dibs on the liquidated merchandise.

I’m willing to admit I’m looking forward to the sell-out deals. Maybe I’ll finally find some more $4 skirts like I was hoping to all along.

Edit: Target is now being criticized that former CEO Gregg Steinhafel’s severance was more than the entire budget for the 17,600 staff who lost their jobs because of mistakes made on Steinhafel’s watch.

This is a great reminder about why big box stores aren’t helping the growing wage gap. In fact, when it comes to paying CEOs massively disproportional salaries compared to their front line workers, big box stores like Target and Walmart are the biggest culprits.

The money you save on those super cheap items is really coming out of the salary of low-wage workers in your community.

Sigh. Maybe I don’t need another armload of cheap skirts after all.

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