It’s been a week since the announcement that after only two years, Target Canada would be closing its doors. It’s an announcement most expected but perhaps not so soon. But as time unfolds and discussions about Target’s flop deepens, we can’t help but feel reminded of one of our core beliefs: that if you’re going to do something you do it right. You have to be competitive, you have to be better, you have to give people something to make a big deal over.
You don’t have to be a retailer to take valuable lessons away from this. Anyone can learn something from this failure.
1. Do your research.
The North American retail landscape was already shaky for department stores. The downfall of Sears has been in the works for a while, and overall consumers were gravitating away from bricks-and-mortar one-stop shops and toward online shopping, or specialty stores and boutiques. (Walmart, however, continued to thrive because it was the best option for lower-income people).
Basically, channel your inner-boy scout and always be prepared. Knowledge is power.
2. If you can’t be original, be better.
“Getting there first” is vital in most markets, but if you can’t get there first, you can still win — by being different and being better. The “Target experience” from South of the border set up big expectations for low prices (competitive with Walmart) and tons of stock. So when prices weren’t as low as its US counterpart and shelves were notoriously low in stock, Target already failed to give something different. So the “Target experience” became the “slightly more expensive than Walmart” experience. They didn’t give anyone anything that they were lacking.
Basically, there’s no excuse for not being the best at something. Good enough is never good enough.
3. Don’t get too big for your britches.
As another one of Canada’s biggest success stories turned flops Blackberry could caution you, the idea of rapid expansion is enticing, but could be a recipe for disaster. Target already shot itself in the foot when it went into Canada operating on assumptions and not taking into account things that could go wrong, but what sealed the deal was its quick roll out. Most moved into former Zellers locations and many of those were less desirable geographically than those of Walmart. Expanding on as short of a timeline as they did gave Target more to fix when they started having problems.
Basically, dream big but keep it reasonable. Accept your limitations and don’t ever get ahead of yourself.
4. Set yourself apart.
People love exclusivity, and in both Canada and the US, designer partnerships and “high-end” in-house labels have proven to be success stories for many retailers (see Sobey’s partnership with Jamie Oliver’s line of food products). While Target US offered an exclusive line from designer Isaac Misrahi in the fashion department, Canadian stores couldn’t do the same. Even when Target began to carry the sought-after Vitamix blender, they were unable to offer prices any lower than the health food stores and kitchen boutiques that also carried it.
Basically, you have to be different, prove that you’re different, and give people something they literally can’t get anywhere else.
5. Stay true to yourself.
“Expect more, pay less.” With a slogan like this, it’s almost like Target Canada was daring people to find a problem with it. Because of the advent of online shopping, customers know what they can get at Target in the US — so to find that Canada was lacking those things was a let-down. In the video below, a beauty blogger shows just how underwhelming Target Canada’s cosmetics selection is in comparison to the US.
If you promise to exceed expectations, you have to know that people are going to build expectations. It’s that simple.
Basically, you can’t make promises that are simply empty words.
6. Assume nothing.
Most of the problems listed above came down to Target making assumptions — assuming that shoppers would chase the “Target experience” despite non-competitive prices. They assumed that the novelty would stay alive despite early missteps. It didn’t give consumers enough credit and failed to deliver what they desperately needed. It was as though they went in blind to all other factors.
Basically, you have to prepare to make mistakes, prepare for things to be difficult, and prepare to have to work to make people care.