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An inside look at top retailers and the consumers they covet

Target CFO gives Best Buy props on a good quarter

Last week, Target reported a double-digit decline in electronics sales, a big factor in its quarterly sales slide. Then on Tuesday, Best Buy, the nation's largest electronics chain, reported a surprising sales bump.

The very disparate results raised a number of eyebrows -- including over at Target's headquarters.

Speaking at a local investors conference this morning, Target Chief Financial Officer Cathy Smith brought it up herself and gave props to Target's Minnesota neighbor.

"We're sitting here saying, 'Gosh, our electronics assortment is not where it needs to be. We're not seeing the innovation in the categories.'" she said. "And then Best Buy -- I'll give this one to them. They had a good quarter." 

She noted in passing that the two chains have different assortments. (Best Buy, for example, has a big appliance business which has helped it weather the downward spiral in smartphones.) 

"But it doesn't matter," she said. "We still have some work to do."

She said Target has been increasing its assortment in up-and-coming categories such as virtual reality and the Internet of things and will continue to do so.

Smith also hinted that Target is considering shrinking the physical space it dedicates to electronics in its stores since electronics sales are increasingly moving online. "So what is the right footprint in our stores?"

Smith was speaking at the InvestMNt conference sponsored by the CFA Society of Minnesota.  

During her presentation, she ran through the several factors that Target executives told investors last week contributed to the 2.2 percent drop in traffic in the second quarter. Electronics was one of them.

The others were not enough emphasis in store displays and ads on its low-priced items or the "Pay Less" part of its brand promise, the disruption from transferring its pharmacies to the CVS banner and a reset of the products in its grocery aisles.

In April, Target added about 1,000 organic, natural and other better-for-you products to its grocery shelves. In the process, every item in that department was shifted, irritating some customers who had to search harder to find what they were looking for.

"People are creatures of habit and when you move their cheese, they get upset -- and reasonably so," she said.

Local blogger finds the best back to school deals for this week

Back to school shopping doesn't follow the same trajectory as other shopping pursuits. If you wait until the week before school starts, many of the best deals are long gone and some items are out of stock. That's the opposite of many items where clearance deals pop up as the season wanes.

Carrie Rocha, a Twin Cities' resident and Pocket Your Dollars blogger, has been tracking the best weekly deals on more than 50 items since July. Each Monday she releases a new chart of the week's best deals. This week she found the best deals on character backpacks ($4.97), 3-ring binders ($0.88 to $0.97), scientific calculator Texas Instruments TI-30xa ($8.94), Crayola crayons ($0.24 for 24), composition notebooks ($0.50)--all at Wal-Mart, highlighters ($1 after coupon, Office Depot/Max),  and Post-It notes ($4.42 at Target). Check out the entire list at PocketYourDollars.

One back-to-school item that can wait until after Labor Day is clothing. Kids can check to see what styles continue to be popular. Later in the fall, items such as jeans and boots will be discounted.

Don't forget about price matching policies if you want to attempt one stop shopping. You'll need the competitor's current ad or an online printout. (Not all stores match online prices.)

Based on Rocha's price lists, it appears that Wal-Mart has the lowest prices most often. She also lists the best price of the season so you'll know how good a deal is. Remember to check your child's list against the school's recommended one, often found in local neighborhood discounters.