05 March 2013

Target, You Missed The Mark

I was all set to write a rave review of the grand opening of Target Canada's pilot store in Milton, one of three that opened up their doors today to the Canadian public. I had done some research (unusual for me: generally I just fly blind with things like "facts") and was prepared to share a ton of details about the chain, including what we could expect price-wise north of the border and important dates to note. And I nailed a fabulous (if sort of obvious) title: "Bulls-Eye for Target Canada!" Cute, right?!

But what I assumed would happen and what actually happened at the Grand Opening were so diametrically opposed in terms of experience that I actually deleted that first post to write this one instead.

I don't know, Target. I'm not really feeling it, you know?

Nothing makes me sadder than when something I've been waiting super-excitedly for turns out to be a disappointment (I'm looking at you, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). Partly the problem is mine: I think I expect too much. In this case, I've been stalking the store since the official announcement came down the pipe. The body wasn't even cold (Zellers, I mean) before I was full-steam-ahead planning my Target onslaught.

Given it's location in town, it was easy to drive by every day to check on the building process. Which I did. A lot. And when the little notice popped up in my Facebook feed that the pilot store was opening today, you better believe it went straight into my calendar. Target and I... we had a date with destiny.

I was less impressed when I had to park more than two blocks away from the store to get any parking space at all. I didn't assume I would be the only one there, but I thought in the middle of a workday ~ smack-dab in the middle of the workweek! ~ that crowds would be a little thinner. Not so, as it turned out. The crowd was more than healthy. Clearly, a good start for them.

It doesn't look impressive, but that's more foot traffic than Milton Mall has seen since Le Chateau opened six years ago and all the high school kids in town took the day off to celebrate and shop. Usually, it's just the local seniors.

Once inside the store, my immediate first impression was that it felt like a glorified Zellers (one of my Twitter peeps suggested it may have felt that way because Zellers long ago adopted Target-esque-style branding, which makes sense to me). The layout also contributed: it's not exactly the same as Zellers, but it's pretty close. The biggest difference was the crowd (in that there was one).

I took a few preliminary shots with Jimmy, the new love of my life (more on him later), and was no more than 30 steps inside the store -- and five photos into my tour -- when an associate rushed up to me in boy's wear and said, "No! No thank you. No photos please."

My mistake! Usually I'm pretty good about asking folks to take photos in their shop, especially smaller retailers who offer unique or one-of-a-kind products and who generally have a small online presence. (does this sounds like Target to you?) Photography can be a touchy issue for some independents, and I try to be very sensitive to that fact. But Target is neither small, nor independent, nor unique, and I think we can agree that their online presence is considerable. Besides which, the store was inundated with local media outlets; cameras were everywhere. I was frankly surprised that they managed to single me out.

So when I apologized (profusely) and let them know I was there for media purposes ~ that I ran a small local blog ("Here's my card...") and was excited to be writing a post about the launch ~ I expected it to smooth the waters. It usually does. Instead, she looked at me and said again, more firmly, "I'm sorry. No photos."

I then asked if there was a media office I could connect with onsite. If it was a matter of obtaining credentials, I thought, I'll just pop in right now and git'er done. I smiled. She smiled back. Then: "Hold on, I'll call someone." Someone. But not the media office? No, not the media office.

We were joined a moment later by another woman who was, I guessed, a floor manager. I repeated my request. Smiled winningly. Looked harmless. Waved my camera in her face a little, sort of tempting-like. Handed her my card. Smiled again: full teeth, raised eyebrows. You know.... hopeful.

"No," the new woman said. "Sorry. We have enough media."

Umm... I'm sorry. What? Is there such a such as enough media? I'm speaking generally of course, but also specifically: Target's warm welcome to our fair northern shores isn't universal. I know of many ~ my own friends and family among them ~ who are completely and totally against the brand invasion. They view it similar to the arrival of Wal-Mart and other wildlife: a foreign specious infiltrating our habitat and devastating the native population of retailers (as with the brown tree snake, so too with Wal-Mart)

Sure, he looks harmless. But he and his pals have eaten their way through all of Guam's indigenous bird population and are now starting to wipe out the rodents and the lizards as well. Not so cute now, right?

As a lover of cute, affordable lamp shades and place settings and area rugs, I don't mind the invasion. More concerning to me is the antiquated approach to social media management. To give credit where credit is due, Target has one of the most effective marketing campaigns out there. Without their amazing branding, they're just another box store full of discounted goods of middling quality. Yes, they've got the fashion-forward angle going for them, especially when it comes to housewares, but what sets them apart from their competitors is purely advertorial.

So it stands to reason ~ and I fully understand ~ that part of their marketing success stems from controlling their messaging with an iron fist. It also stands to reason that blogs, living as they do in the badlands of traditional media, may not be the type of media they want to rub shoulders with.

But here's the real rub: blogs are out there. Social media is now the driving force behind consumer decisions in this country for the under-40 demographic: it can - and does! - deeply influence the purchasing choices of Canadians. It's not something to be trifled with, no matter how huge or how successful you are.

And granted, Money Pit Love is small and maybe a larger, well-known blog would not have received the same reception. But they don't know how small ~ or big ~ this blog is, nor can they control what happens on any other social medium (because naturally, I immediately shared my experience on Twitter, where there are no do-overs. It's out there. Interesting side note? While I've been deep in conversations with several of my Tweeple who share my view on this type of media management, Target Canada hasn't responded to any of our missives. Not once. A serious fail in message management, in my opinion).

Furthermore, I fail to understand exactly what they are attempting to protect. Any and every product they carry is online and readily available, including pricing information, descriptions and photography. Clearly, the production value of photography is better: professional versus amateur wins every time. But outside of that, what state secrets are being protected by disallowing photography in-situ? Or more specifically, what secrets are being protected by disallowing camera photography in-situ?? Because had I wanted to take photos with my phone, she "couldn't stop me. But cameras are not allowed."

Social media is a powerful tool that, like any other tool, can be useful or dangerous depending on how you treat it. I don't presume that this one little review on this one little blog will make any difference whatsoever in the success or failure of Target's expansion into Canada ~ that would be a ridiculous expectation. But what I am is one little drop in an ocean of bloggers that grows larger and more influential every year.

Blogs are no longer on the outskirts of mainstream media, they ARE mainstream media. It's time that retailers large and small learned to adapt.

Brown tree snake image via National Geographic