Sometimes the “Art” of retail outweighs the “Science”
With a blog title of “Results Count”, we do a lot of posts on the science and numbers of retail. If you scan the archives in the search bar on our blog site, you will find a lot of previous posts on scorecards and metrics of retailing. This week’s post is about the “art” of retail and how Target made a bold statement without saying anything. Kudos to Target!
Retail is a brutal business run by the numbers
Make no mistake about it, retailing is truly a brutal business. The “Laws of the Retail Jungle” are about detailed execution 365/24/7. At the end of the day, the retailers that survive long term must make their numbers work in their business model, and generate an operating profit.
Target is a very interesting case study of a mass merchant retailer that goes head to head with Walmart. And, like everyone else, Target is also feeling the pain and price pressures from online retailers like Amazon. But, Target has been successful by following a core rule of retailing today: Differentiate or Die!
Target’s differentiation survival strategies
There is no way that Target can compete head to head on price with Amazon or Walmart, and they don’t attempt to. A primary Target strategy is to differentiate by carrying different types and brands of merchandise that consumers can’t purchase anywhere else. For example, Target has a number of “house brands” like Cherokee jeans, which has now morphed into a clothing line that is only sold at Target.Target is also one of the best practitioners of the “Art” of retailing. They have designed their stores to be very appealing to women, especially moms with kids. Their plan-o-grams are meticulous and consistent making their stores easy to shop. They have designed their stores with wide aisles with bright lighting. As a result, Target has come to “own” the female consumer when she shops bricks and mortar stores.
Target’s numbers not so hot for holiday
All strategy and merchandising aside, Target’s numbers were not so hot for the holiday period. Like most retailers struggling to make sales to middle class America, Target offered a number of deals and discounts to lure shoppers. One promotion was a “50% Off” the day after Christmas focused on scrounging up last minute sales. So while sales were up, profits were marginal due to all of the discounting and promotions.
On the whole, Target did not fare well in fourth quarter. Earnings forecasts are down. But to be fair, other competitive retailers like Kohl’s and JC Penney also dropped forecasts based on holiday sales. It is becoming apparent that long term strategies will need to:
- Focus on value beyond lowest price
- Develop relationships with consumers
- Create a brand and loyalty beyond merchandise & price
In short, future success will require both the science and art of retail.
Going beyond the “mainstream” … leading by example
Few probably know that I started my career as a “teacher” for special needs students. It was not a career choice, but more of an opportunity to put food on the table by applying my BA in psychology. What started out as a “job” became a rare opportunity to learn some lessons in life.
Four decades ago, a very large number of handicapped and challenged children were not in public schools. Part of my job was to get these special kids equipped to be part of the new “mainstream” movement enabling them to attend public school classrooms. The most memorable moment of my early teaching career was when Tommy, a student with Down Syndrome, was removed from my “special” education class because he became “just a student” at his local school.
You may have missed Target’s ad that spoke volumes
All the numbers aside, Target ran an amazing Ad that you probably missed. If you missed it, it was by design. Target very skillfully featured Ryan in one of their ads … with not a single word about it.
There is nothing remarkable about this ad. In fact, the ad is for $5 shirts, not some remarkable product or deal.
What makes the ad significant is that it features Ryan on the left. Ryan lives with Down Syndrome, but in this ad he looks and poses just like all of the other kids. Most of us wouldn’t notice … and that’s the point.
Why is Target’s Ad worthy of recognition?
Target could have engaged a PR firm or used their extensive social media to call attention to their ad and how they included Ryan. But, Target did none of that. The way I found out about the ad was through my daughter who sent me a link to Noah’s Dad blog. Noah’s Dad created a blog to write about his son with Down Syndrome. He very eloquently captures what makes this Target ad special:
This wasn't a "Special Clothing For Special People" catalog. There wasn't a call out somewhere on the page proudly proclaiming that "Target's proud to feature a model with Down syndrome in this week's ad!" And they didn't even ask him to model a shirt with the phrase, "We Aren't All Angels" printed on the front.
Target has made its share of mistakes and taken its lumps. But, in this case, Target got it right in terms of communicating the right message in the right way … without fanfare. It is one example of how retailers need to work at building brand identity and relationships that last beyond the lowest price of the day.
I would encourage you to go to Noah’s Dad blog and read his thoughts on the “5 Things Target Said By Not Saying Anything”.
And, that my friend is the new “Art of Retail” … getting consumers to be your advocates and say things that you could never buy or say in advertising or even in your own social media.
- Retail Customer Experience: How Target said it best when it said nothing at all, January 3, 2012
- Noah’s Dad: Target Is ‘Down’ With Down Syndrome: 5 Things Target Said By Saying Nothing At All, January 2, 2012
- Target Consumer Image: Minnesota Public Radio
- Snapshot of Target Ad: Retail Customer Experience