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Target Talks Cheap but Can't Resist Chic

Target is trying to balance its proposition to consumers measuring, as the company puts it, the relative importance of the expect more and the pay less elements of its brand promise, or, as others might put it, weighing the cheap and chic ends of its popular reputation.

No one should yet judge just how the matter might tilt, however.

Lately Target has emphasized how it is making itself more attractive to shoppers by expanding relatively inexpensive private labels, expanding price matching guarantees and otherwise taking measures to convince consumers that what it charges is competitive with its major rivals. Yet, even if it talks cheap, it hasn't stopped thinking chic.

And it probably shouldn't. After all, its distribution probably isn't going to match Wal-Mart efficiencies any time soon, so a true price war would be foolhardy. The risk is particularly acute at a time when its rival is muddying the waters that are supposed to separate the two with cleaner, brighter and more attractive store environments that Wal-Mart claims are winning market share at the focal points of its efforts, electronics and home. When the recession ends, the more the two rival retailers are alike, the less reason customers who have traded down from Target to Wal-Mart will have to trade back up.

So, Target will keep doing what it did to get its chic on, which means trotting a lot of stylish names through its aisles. "Throughout the fall season, we'll continue to demonstrate our commitment to differentiated content and provide compelling reasons for guests to shop at Target with the introduction of several new up and coming designers," said Kathryn Tesija, the company's executive vice president of merchandising in a conference call last week. Among the initiatives coming this month and next:

It doesn't end there, as later in the year Target is determined to bring in even more handbags, these from designer Carlos Falchi in another limited edition handbag collection.

In the conference call, as transcribed by SeekingAlpha, Tesija described that line as offering vivid color, pattern and texture "in deep hues and jewel tones on signature silhouettes."

She added:

The hobos, satchels, shoulder and messenger bags in shades of plum, teal, brown, black and grey, are elegant yet functional with their interior compartments and pockets large enough to fit everyday needs. The exotic collection features Falchi's iconic techniques and prints with intricate stitching details at amazingly affordable prices ranging from $19.99 to $49.99. The collection will be available at Target stores and on Target.com beginning early November through the end of December.
And that says a lot about how Target feels about -- and positions -- chic.

Handbags might not be a bad focal point for Target. Given what women were paying for purses before the recession, even $49.99 is cheap, and chic is a relative attraction when consumers are wondering when unemployment will hit 10 percent.