Target Practice

I pretty much stopped clothes shopping three years ago, when I decided to leave my job.  Economy was the name of the game and so I made do with the many things I already had in my closet.  The long neglected casual part of my wardrobe began to get more regular circulation and in time I lost touch with our local dry cleaner.  I revelled in the comfort of my new best friends; my Lululemon yoga pants. 

My consulting work was done largely at my dining room table so there was no need for office wear.  Teleconferences rendered my clothing choices open to my colleagues’ imagination and even the odd Skype meeting only required semi-professional clothing from the chest up.  However, this summer a consulting project came my way that required a fair amount of face to face client meetings. 

After months of professional isolation, dusting off my career wear was fun; I felt like I was getting ‘out there’ again.  But I couldn’t help wondering if some of my career separates had seen better days.  My friend Georgina has been working on a couple of blog posts around the topic of returning to work after a career hiatus, and more than once she’s referenced the ‘faux pas’ of showing up to interviews in dated outfits.  No one wants to look like they’ve fallen behind the times.

So with Christmas behind us, The Williams family took advantage of a free day last week to travel across the border to gorge ourselves on gross consumerism and some American size meals. 

After a full five hours trolling the Fashion Outlets mall, accumulating a gaggle of shopping bags full of stuff we did (and didn’t) need, and stuffing ourselves overfull at Applebee’s, we were ready to go.  But there was just one more item on our list… a pharmacy product.  Weighing the various retail options, we found that there really only was one answer in all of our minds…  Tar-get! 

Indeed, the addition of Target to our Canadian retail landscape is something we’re all eagerly anticipating.  I think of it as a fancy Wal-Mart full of stylish merchandise at affordable prices.  Every time I drive by their illuminated logo on the slick head office building off the 401 in Toronto, I find my gaze drawn to it, wondering what merchandising delights they’re cooking up for us inside.  Even the least enthusiastic shopper in our family, Taylor, was eager to say she’d been there.  It might even warrant taking a photo of her ‘in situ’ that she could then post on social media with the hope that her friends would be jealous. 

Target Canada has been doing a simply fantastic job marketing their brand in this pre-launch phase.  Their pop up stores have attracted crowds of Canadian fans and garnered media attention.  What impresses me most about Target`s efforts so far, is the degree to which they are taking a regional approach.  Oddly some Canadian retailers forget this simple fact, but Target has recognized that Canada is not Toronto and have embraced the vastness of our country in their marketing plans.  Check out the coast to coast Holiday Road Trip promo they ran in the weeks leading up to Christmas:  http://pressroom.target.ca/pr/tgt-en/default.aspx

Unfortunately, our first human interaction at Target in Niagara Falls, NY was an intoxicated hobo shuffling through the foyer.  I suppose that can happen in any store, but you know what they say about first impressions.  Our second impression was one of disarray.  Far from the ‘healthy mess’ merchandising strategy of legendary retailer Jean Coutu, this could only be described as a dirty mess.  Shopping carts were tattered, and staff wore wash weary red pinnies.  Merchandise lay strewn on the floor, having tumbled from half empty shelves, and Taylor slipped twice on a slimy substance in the middle of the aisle.  Unlike the spirited crowds we had encountered at the Fashion Outlets, only a handful of desolate looking shoppers wandered this sad store. 

Having secured the item we were looking for from Target’s half-hearted effort at a pharmacy department, we continued around the perimeter of the store.  There’s nothing more American than baseball, right?  Surely the sporting goods section would be better and Jack would find something to satisfy his growing baseball obsession.  But sporting goods was just as threadbare and, to my dismay, so was the selection of home goods.  The clothing section was so disturbing that we felt compelled to avert our eyes as we passed by. 

Before we left, I dictated that everyone should visit the washroom on the premise that crossing the border might take a while.  I’d call the condition of the Target washrooms the icing on the cake, but just thinking about that analogy makes me gag a little.

If this is the Target that is coming to Canada then we`re all in for some serious lunchbox letdown. 

My humble prediction though, is that this won`t be the case.  My marketing spidey senses tell me that the first Target stores that open in Canada this spring are going to be awesome.  Their pre-marketing activities have primed us to Expect More (the first part of their customer promise) and I can`t imagine that they will disappoint us.  My fear is that in time, the second half of their customer promise, Pay Less, will make it impossible to sustain.  Trying to out-discount the competition can prove a slippery slope, squeezing margins until inventory is so tight that shelves become sparse and the cleaning regimen begins to slip.  With this, the upscale clientele begin to drift away and the product selection begins skew to a discount mindset.  Until…. voila!  We`ve got our crummy Zellers back again.

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Coupon Hangups

Ever since I left my job, in a desperate attempt to maintain some of the quality of life to which we have become accustomed, I’ve been doing some fancy footwork when it comes to shopping for food and basic household supplies.

Each Thursday the local paper lands on our doorstep and I race for it, eager to scour the grocery flyers for fantastic deals.  Butter for $2.97??  I put it on the list and plan to take full advantage of the customer limit of four.  Our favourite laundry detergent for $4.97?  That’s less than half price!  And the cheese!  Every week the jumbo size seems to be on sale for less than $5.00.  Once I spotted it at an all time low of $3.97.  I can’t
believe I ever paid full price for this stuff and we’ve never had cheesier meals.

In pursuit of these deals, I’ve learned to love the discount grocery environment.  Thanks to repeated coaching by elderly Italian gentlemen, I eventually got the hang of the grocery cart release mechanisms.  FYI, those contraptions look similar from store to store, but the quarter can go in a variety of places, and that pointy thing at the end of the chain sometimes goes in and sometimes pops out when you get the quarter in place.  Now I’m a pro, and I sometimes look for struggling amateurs with whom to share my expertise.  The stores themselves were a bit of a shock at first but I’ve learned to love them in all their cardboardness.   I dance around the aisles picking up incredible deals on peanut butter, taco kits and frozen vegetables, and wonder why my fellow shoppers seem so grim-faced.  Why doesn’t everyone shop here???  Could people really be so put off by misshapen green peppers to pass up such deals?

However, I still haven’t quite got the hang of couponing.  I’ve started to think about
it lately because my kids have become captivated by the show Extreme Couponing.  They want to know why I’m not shopping with stacks of coupons and leaving the store with a cart full of goodies for just $1.54.  I tell them that the show takes place in the United States and the rules are different, which is true, but the fact is that I don’t use coupons at all.

I do clip them.  Along with my Thursday flyer ritual I pull out the coupon booklets and tear out offers for products we often use.  I even occasionally rip them out of magazines.  Then I place them in a manila envelope I keep in a basket on our kitchen counter.  But somehow the contents of that envelope only make it out of our house every six months or so when I sort through it and throw out the offers that have expired.  And each time I do this, I ask myself WHY I bother cutting them out and saving them when I NEVER use them.

Well one reason, is that I tend to forget about them.  I go shopping with a list but I never seem to take that step to pull out relevant coupons and bring them with me.  But I think the main reson I ‘forget’ to bring them, is that I have an image in my head of coupons being in the same category as food stamps.  Only the desperately poor use them. Once, in my twenties, I tried to use a coupon and was loudly refused by the cashier because it was expired.

“Really?” I said.

“Yes.  Expires September 30th.”

“But isn’t that today?”

“Yes ma’am.  It’s expired today.”

I felt the eyes of the other customers in line boring into the back of my head, heard one of them sigh deeply, and felt my cheeks turn red with deep shame.

I also remember being a busy career woman and how annoyed I felt when the customer ahead of me pulled out a stack of coupons at the last minute.  With each one, the cashier felt a need to verify that the product was indeed somewhere in the bags of purchases before she would ring it through.  That time it was me who looked at my watch and uttered a heavy sigh.

But I think I’m going to give it another go.  The other day I finally got up the nerve to
take advantage of my local discount grocer’s offer to price match advertised competitor prices.  I carefully folded the competitor flyer to the appropriate page and placed it on top of the matching item amongst all the other things on the checkout belt.  My heart began to race as the conveyor chugged forward and I held my breath as the cashier’s hand reached out for the flyer.  Would she know why it was there?  Would she have to call her supervisor to get some sort of authorization?

She simply picked it up and made the adjustment without even saying a word.  Easy peasy.  Just like that, I saved $2.47!

Flipping through my current collection of coupons I see at least twenty dollars in savings to be had.  Surely I won’t feel any sillier using them than I did a couple of months ago when I checked through with a shopping cart full of cans of soup at the hot price of 44 cents each.

Is this increase in bravery due to my current economic situation?  Maybe I’m simply reaching the age when I just don’t give a crap anymore.  Let the customers behind me think what they like…. all I see are dollar signs!