Shelley Fralic: Top 5 reasons why Target Canada was an epic failure
Empty shelves and severe lack of ambiance were only part of the problem
It’s noon, Thursday. I am standing in the curtains aisle at Target in Metrotown, the biggest, busiest mall in the province with more than 400 stores.That includes anchor store Target, where there are no curtain rods. None. The shelves are empty.
So is the store. But then, that’s not unusual. Since the U.S. behemoth opened the doors in this location in November 2013, one of its 133 forays into the Canadian marketplace and one of 19 stores in B.C., it’s been the kind of place that one could shoot that proverbial cannon right through.
Oh, there’s a handful of folks here on this day, like most days. Moms with strollers. Teenagers in the makeup section. Seniors in the pharmacy. Maybe two dozen in all roaming about its 85,000 square feet over two levels. Even the in-store Starbucks is slow.
This is a mall that sees 25 million shoppers every year, or 70,000 potential customers a day, which means you’d have to work pretty hard not to make a go of it with that kind of traffic.
So what happened? How did the fabled U.S. chain that had so many Canadians involved in cross-border worship for so many years fail in such an epic way in such a short time with those same Canadians.
Here are five reasons that might help explain things, from the perspective of an average shopper.
1. Sorry, we’re not in the mood
The stores are cold and quiet, cavernous. No background music, no buzz, none of the standard retail atmosphere that pulls us in and makes us buy things we might not otherwise want or need.
2. Where’s the beef?
In Metrotown, like many other Canadian outlets, Target replaced Zellers. Say what you will about Zellers, but there was no messing around when it came to variety. Junior needs new sneakers? Zellers had dozens of styles to choose from. Target? A handful, at most.
3. Talk about minimalism
From day one, the store seemed unable to fill its basic quota. Shelves on both floors were perpetually empty, the aisles full of nothing, as if there were some kind of consumer goods famine.
4. Don’t get your bargains here
Well, it turned out not to be quite the deal Canadians hoped for, with customers disappointed to discover the Canadian price tags came nowhere close to that of similar goods at Target stores in the U.S. A naive expectation, of course, given the vagaries of international trade, but an expectation nonetheless.
To compound the unexpected sticker shock was the pure inconvenience of parting with one’s money. At Metrotown, the cash registers on the main floor of Target are located on the west side of the store, far from the mall entrance. Seniors and child-laden parents viewed the annoying double-back trip from one side to the other and back again — just to spend money on goods that turned out not to be such a good deal — as simply too much trouble.
5. Too big for those U.S. britches
There was a sense that Target’s aggressive foray into the Canadian market in 2011, after buying up more than 200 Zellers locations, was somewhat like an invasion, clean and swift and designed to wipe out its foes.
In hindsight, one wonders if the conversation around the boardroom a few years back went something like this:
We’re a retail industry leader in the U. S.? Right.
We’re a huge hit in the U.S. with Canadian shoppers? Right.
We’re a renowned purveyor of reasonably priced designer goods? Right.
We’re better than the competition, like arch rival Walmart? Right.
So it must be time to tap the consumer wallets in that cold populated land mass north of our 49th? Right.