Consumers Prefer Target, but Management Shouldn't Get Sloppy

Target Merchandising Fail for Zac Posen The results are in and Target (TGT) handily beat Walmart (WMT) in a new consumer preference study by Retail Eye Partners. Most notably, Target got high marks for offering a superior shopping experience and merchandise selection. I'm not surprised. But anecdotal evidence suggests team Target may be slipping up on purchasing and merchandising.

Exhibit A:

LA Times fashion writer Booth Moore posts an elegant lament for the nearly immediate sell out of Target's latest designer shoe collaboration with Cynthia Vincent. Moore writes, "If Target is going to continue its strategy of whipping shoppers into a frenzy every few weeks over a new designer collaboration, it's going to have to deliver."

Spurred by her findings, I hurried to my local Target last Saturday to see if my geographic location (smallish city) would give me an advantage over the denizens of LA. Not only was there a pitiful selection (I read all the shelf tags and there wasn't one sticker to suggest the coveted cognac wedges were part of the delivery at all) but there were no signs to indicate this was even a special collection.

That's surprising because Target did a wonderful job of highlighting the various Liberty of London merchandise in March with vivid hanging signage and posters throughout the store.

I went to investigate another store across town and though it was carrying a slightly larger selection (one pair of cognac wedges left!) it too, had no signs to direct shoppers' attention.

I wrote to a Target spokesperson earlier this week to ask about this curious state of affairs. Unlike Booth Moore, I got no response.

A trip to the store this morning revealed the shoe collection had been moved to the center aisle and did have the proper signage. Someone must have been listening.

Exhibit B:

Target's Go International designer collaboration with fashion's wunderkind Zac Posen debuted on Sunday April 25. Talk about whipping shoppers into a froth and falling short on delivery. The blogosphere (including this BNET column) has been abuzz about Posen's posies for months. Imagine my surprise when I, and my young shopping companion, showed up at 9 a.m. on launch day and found--no Zac Posen anything.

The store staff who tried to help were friendly, but clearly had no idea what we were asking about. The young man who finally rolled out a rack from the stock room confessed there were two designers' items mixed together (there were not).

After pawing through the rack and determining the entire line was not there, we hurried across town. There was the collection in its proper spot, front and center in the women's apparel section. But what did the sign right above the t-shirt emblazoned with the name "Zac" read? "Jean Paul Gaultier."

Gaultier was last month's GO collaborator and to be fair, many of his pieces were still around â€" on the 30 percent off rounders.

As of this morning, the sign is still there. I've posted it above.

I am a big fan of Target. And I've had hands-on experience with merchandising and purchasing during my career, so I know buying can be an inexact science. It's likely the buying for these collections was in the works during the depths of the recession. And it's hard to keep precise tabs on which posters are going into the right spots in 1,700+ stores. So I'll just offer some words of cautionary advice to team Target: You're doing great -- don't get sloppy now.

Image copyright Lydia Dishman ©2010