My last blog on the Canadian launch of U.S. super-retailer Target, struck a chord. I’ve never had so many friends make a point of telling me they’d read one of my posts, and sharing so vehemently their points of view on the topic. So when I heard that three Target ‘pilot’ stores were opening in Ontario this week, like a moth to a bug zapper, I found myself drawn in.
This past Tuesday, people were lined up outside the Milton store when the doors opened at 8am. I wonder what they thought when they stepped inside. Were they dazzled by the brand-spanking new Starbucks in the foyer? Did they get a little flutter in their chests as they wheeled those virgin red plastic shopping carts from aisle to aisle? Did they stop to browse the first display of colour grouped costume jewellery, or was their eye caught by something deeper inside?
Today, my first issue was parking. Milton Mall is a facility that has seen better days, perhaps constructed at a time when people travelled primarily on foot and by bus? Side-stepping potholes in the parking lot, I reached a mall entrance and snaked my way past empty storefronts and oddly branded clothing stores featuring footwear of the 3 for $10 variety, towards the Target ‘anchor’ store. It struck me that Target will either revitalize this mall or prove to be the kiss of death. No in between.
Inside Target, it was a zoo. People packed shoulder to shoulder and a checkout line that was a mile long. At first, I interpreted the empty shelves in the shoe department as a signal that the merchandise must have been remarkable. But on closer examination I discovered inventory issues everywhere that were more difficult to explain. I offer exhibit A:
This aisle, in the health and beauty aid department, was virtually empty. I find it hard to believe that the hair elastics and headbands were so fantastic as to result in a Sunday afternoon customer feeding frenzy. And this wasn’t the only area of the store where I found empty shelves. Bathroom wastepaper baskets were picked clean, only a smattering of spring handbags remained, and my contact lens solution was out of stock.
As a ‘pilot’ there are lessons for Target management in this Milton store, and judging from the number of staff scurrying around scanning shelf tags with laser inventory devices, I’m betting that they’re doing their best to learn them.
I hold out hope that the store’s official grand openings this spring are going to be spectacular. My advice to shoppers, is to let these ‘pilot’ stores practice on other people…. Like sneaking a peek at my Christmas presents, my visit left me wishing I’d waited for the big day.