The outside of a Target store in Langley, B.C.

Target tees off Canadian mulligan with ‘transparent’ video confessional

The company released a video on YouTube on June 10, apologizing to Canadians for a tough and 'disappointing' first year.

On June 10, Target turned a for-internal-consumption-only video into a viral hit, releasing a two-minute confessional on YouTube with one clear message: Canada, we’re sorry.

“Certainly, we think we disappointed our guests,” says Damien Liddle, the company’s senior corporate counsel, in the video. “Maybe we didn’t put our best foot forward when we entered into Canada… We’re working really hard to give everybody that unique Target experience.”

The company has struggled financially since its expansion to the Great White North. Target reportedly lost $1.52 billion in its first year in Canada, according to its earnings report in May. Consumers have complained that prices aren’t as low in Canada as they are at Target stores in the United States, among other things.

So the video was an attempt for employees and executives to not distance themselves the numbers, but rather to address it and, in a way, embrace it.

“We think that a lot of our team members, they’re following the news,” said Joanne Elson, a Target PR manager and spokesperson out of Mississauga, Ontario, in an interview with Black Press on June 20.

“We really wanted to get a sense as to how our own team members were feeling about things, where their thoughts were,” she says, detailing how the video came to be made. “It’s really personal for them as well and they’ve really put their heart and soul into their jobs.”

Elson says the video – which became public after Target Canada president Mark Schindele tweeted it out, which was a company decision – “touched on a lot of the points” she hoped it would, and said her and her team are “happy with how it came together”.

“It had a really good response,” she said. “We had a lot of people applaud us for being transparent and for sharing that feedback.”

Now, the goal is to improve Target’s in-store experience in Canada. Customers know the brand for its presence and its identity south the 49th, and those same customers have been disappointed, the video says, by what they’ve experienced at home.

“We knew that brand awareness was pretty strong and many guests were familiar with our stores in the United States,” said Elson. “A lot of Canadians were familiar with the brand. That helped to generate a lot of expectation and excitement for Target’s arrival.”

Since expanding to Canada, Target has opened over 120 stores up here and has added 20,000 “team members,” as Elson refers to them.

“A lot of the stores in the United States are built from the ground up,” she says. “In Canada, we need to rework an existing format.”

Elson said Target’s American stores are “definitely well-known for being clean, with wide aisles, good lighting, that uncluttered, distraction-free shopping environment.”

Another large part of Target’s appeal has historically been its featuring of several brands exclusive to its stores. Boys can shop for not just t-shirts but custom t-shirts, for example. Go to Target’s Langley store near Willowbrook mall, and you’ll find shirts with vintage Coke and Pepsi logos, or superheroes and classic rock bands, or TV shows like Sons of Anarchy.

Target just recently announced a new partnership with popular Vancouver-based Pinterest user Poppytalk, an account led by Jan Halvarson that has over 8,293,000 followers.

Target has now released the ‘Poppytalk’ collection, which features party ideas and outdoor ideas and products, from $3 to $25. And the company has combined forces with two other pinners – Joy Cho and Kate Arendts – for its Oh Joy! and Wit & Delight collections. (Wit & Delight will launch in stores on September 14.)

Elson says these recently announced Pinterest partnerships are a new step, an evolution of the store’s already existing partnerships, and a way to fuse customers’ experiences online and to get them excited about coming into the store.

Target’s owned and exclusive brands include Cherokee, Mossimo, and Threshold, and the store has ongoing partnerships with collections like Shaun White, Nate Berkus, and Sonia Kashuk.

“We really invented the design partnership idea,” says Elson. “I know that’s one of the things Canadian guests were really looking forward to.”

But one thing shoppers weren’t looking forward to were ’empty shelves’ – a problem that became an embarrassing issue for the company a year ago, after photos posted online spread like wildfire.

The empty shelves actually existed because demand for Target’s on-sale items outweighed its supply, said company merchandising vice-president John Morioka in March, 2013.

“We definitely were slammed,” he told the Globe and Mail. “We thought there would be an initial bump. The bump has not levelled off to the degree that we thought.”

The ’empty shelves’ arose again this year, both after the holiday season in January and then in May, when Target Corp. CEO John Mulligan called them “unacceptable”.

Also in May, Target Canada president Tony Fisher was fired, and replaced by Schindele.

“Our progress needs to come much, much quicker,” Mulligan said.

The shelves left an odd impression with shoppers – a first impression that the company hopes it can correct, and Elson is confident it will.

“We fully recognize that not everything is perfect in the store and that we do have some work to do,” said Elson. “We have 20,000 team members who are dedicated. They were in the store the day it opened and they are on-board, physically helping bring the products into the stores.”

Those team members are prominently featured in Target’s video, which Elson adds was not just an important declaration to Canadian shoppers, but also a rallying call internally.

“You’re working so hard, you see all the little things you’re doing on your end,” she said. “But sometimes, that’s a lot harder for someone on the outside to see all those little things being done. The video did a good job summarizing all the feedback, whether it was the positive or negative comments, to summarize how so many different people are feeling. We’re working every day to make improvements and to enhance our experience.

“Maybe it’s not all positive, but the negative feedback is just as important. That’s something everyone took away.”

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