As Target Corp. looks beyond the closing of its Canadian stores, innovations in its U.S. operations will play a bigger role as it aims for a financial rebound this year.
Project managers at the Minneapolis-based retailer are constantly experimenting with store displays, merchandising and the gadgetry of shopping. They often test ideas around the Twin Cities, with its Quarry store in northeast Minneapolis a particular favorite.
After seeing positive results, Target has already been adding mannequins to make clothes pop out, taking iPads and smartphones out from behind the glass so customers can play with them, and installing more attractive backlit shelves in the beauty section. Now they are testing a new layout of the home department that looks more like a furniture store and re-imagining the first thing a customer sees when walking in the front entrance, an area now filled with bins of $1 items.
If an idea works, Target rolls it out to other stores. If it bombs, it quietly goes away. Here’s a rundown of some of Target’s recent experiments:
Instead of dishes and cups being stacked up on shelves, Target is testing more of a lifestyle layout. Products are displayed on tables to help customers imagine what they’d look like at home. Chairs might be arranged around a coffee table with a matching rug and throw pillows to give shoppers an idea of how they all look together.
Target first began testing this redesigned home department at the Quarry store in November. It will be rolled out to 15 more stores this spring.
When shoppers walk into a Target, they are usually greeted by the “One Spot” — a section selling items for $1. But since November, Target has been testing a new front-of-the-store display at its Quarry and Eden Prairie stores that highlights a curated assortment of items from throughout the store. At the Quarry store, this section recently showcased soup bowls next to oyster crackers, houseplants and scarves from its partnership with Faribault Woolen Mill.
But the early results haven’t been great. Customers have been confused by the high dividing walls and often walk right past the section. So it’s being retooled.
Kids’ shopping carts
Next month, Target will begin testing kids’ shopping carts in 10 stores, including three in the Twin Cities (St. Louis Park, Eagan and Maple Grove). It’s not a novel concept, of course. But it’s something that could help keep young children entertained while their parents shop.
Digital price tags
While the technology has been around for years and is used in countries such as France, digital price tags haven’t really taken off in the U.S. But Target recently tested them at its Eden Prairie store. Analysts note that digital price tags can help retailers change prices more quickly and cut down on store labor, but retailers are still weighing those benefits against the cost to upgrade.
A Target spokeswoman said the digital price tags have already been removed from the Eden Prairie store and there are no plans at present to roll them out.
Last fall, Target teamed with a Palo Alto-based start-up to launch curbside pickup outside 10 stores in the San Francisco Bay Area. Customers who live in that area that can order items from Target through the Curbside app. An hour later, they can pull up to a trailer or tent near the entrance, where the items can be picked up without customers having to leave their vehicles.
The service is free. No word yet on whether it will be expanded to more locations.
In about 16 stores in Texas, Target has been beefing up its assortment of items to better cater to the area’s large Latino population. Products include party supplies for quinceaneras, christening outfits, Dia de los Muertos knickknacks and soccer jerseys. That test has been going on for more than a year.
It’s an example of the localization that Chief Executive Brian Cornell wants to see at more Target stores.
The first TargetExpress opened in July near the University of Minnesota. About a sixth the size of a typical Target store, it initially offered very little apparel. But students have been asking for it. So in recent weeks, Target has been adding yoga pants, sweatpants, belts and sunglasses. Target plans to continue tweaking the assortment as it opens eight more TargetExpress stores nationwide this year.
At the Quarry store, Target last summer replaced the price scanners found at the end of some aisles with iPads. The company calls them “seamless service stations.” Customers can use the iPads to text or summon a store employee and look up items on Target.com.
The iPads have since been rolled out to 70 stores nationwide. And based on positive results so far, they are slated to hit more stores this year.