Dear Target: It’s Not Me, It’s You.

Dennis Sanders

Dennis is the pastor of a small Protestant congregation outside St. Paul, MN and also a part-time communications consultant. A native of Michigan, you can check out his writings over on Medium and subscribe to his Substack newsletter on religion and politics called Polite Company.  Dennis lives in Minneapolis with his husband Daniel.

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45 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    Our experiences with Target, like yours, were a lot better in years past than in years recent. I don’t know what happened. It’s like they’re constantly understocked of things that, you’d think, no decent store would ever run out of. Like the good kind of socks. I like to buy the socks that are nice and thick and suitable for wearing under a pair of Doc Martens all day. And they had only one pack the last time I was there. ONE PACK.

    This is madness.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Jaybird says:

      Target did indeed used to be a more chic and pleasant place to go. Now, at least in my part of the world, it feels pretty much exactly like Wal-Mart. Except the food costs more. Soap and grooming supplies are pretty much the same. The garden and outdoor centers all closed.

      The only reason to continue going to Target these days is fewer people shopping at the times we’re likely to be out, so it’s easier to navigate and check out than at Wally World.Report

    • Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

      Hmm…I didn’t realize this was a U.S.-wide phenomenon. I was in there a month or two ago and thought it really strange that they seemed not to have completed the post-Xmas restock yet (January is often a bare-shelf month, but February?)

      I wonder how hard Amazon is eating their lunch. I go to Target, and most everywhere retail-wise (except the home improvement store and the grocery store), a lot less frequently than I used to.Report

  2. Rufus F. says:

    Well, you’re absolutely right about attention to detail, but I do think they also opened too many stores at once. It’s kinda bizarre how they did it here- they knew that Canadians love to cross the border and shop at American stores, so they opened 133 stores pretty much in a rush without having their supply chains in place and then they gave them less than two years to work before pulling the plug. It brings new meaning to the saying “go big or go home”. Target seemed to ask, “Why can’t we do both?”Report

  3. Michael Drew says:

    I still like Target. I don’t go to Wal-Mart, but that’s probably largely just because I don’t know where things are there. Also, the aisles feel cramped to me.

    The thing I find weird here in St. Paul is how many things are cheaper at Target than at Cub, both local companies. But they are right next to each other by me, with a Wal-Mart right in the same complex, so I usually just go to whichever has what I want cheaper (except Wal-Mart, I just haven’t taken the time to comparison shop there), or just has what I want. Often I go to both on a trip.

    I know Target screwed the pooch in Canada, but until that starts clearly affecting my shopping experience, I don’t really care much. Maybe it has, but I’m not too aware of it yet.

    I have noticed them being out of stock with some things. I guess I don’t think much of it when it happens. Also, customer service remains good. Recently there were running a special on 24-packs of soda but there weren’t any. So I asked for 2 12-packs for the price they were selling the 24s for; they did it. No way that’s happening at Cub.Report

    • North in reply to Michael Drew says:

      I’d love someone to tell me why Cub sucks so much more than Rainbow did. The uptown Rainbow went Cub and our grocery bill increased by about 25% while our quantity and quality stayed the same or went down. Also Cub’s only rewards are discount gas at Holidays. Rainbow rewards actually helped you buy stuff – at Rainbow.Report

  4. Damon says:

    They screwed up the Canadian move. Now they are scrapping it. If they come back it’ll be a restart. They are cutting their losses and pulling out. To stay would have meant that they’d continue to bleed while still fixing the problem. I’m sure they are having problems in the us as well, so it makes sense to cut and run.

    The staff reductions are a reaction to the large write offs they will be taking. Hopefully they’ll learn from this and work to get back to the standards they used to have. Otherwise someone else with become the new “tar jey”Report

    • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Damon says:

      The thing that gets me is that this is not a new thing. I mean, MBA programs all have classes filled with tales like this, about how to do a move into another market/country right/wrong.

      One would think some of the people in charge of the Canada opening would have gone to one of those MBA schools and read case studies on this kind of thing. Had a clue & all that.

      Once again, the smartest guys in the room…Report

      • Damon in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        Yeah, you’d think. But I can’t tell you how many business decisions I’ve had to implement or been effected by them where the operative mode was “just go do it, we don’t have time to think about it.”.

        Too many.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Hubris & impatience foil more endeavours than bad luck or enemy action ever could.Report

      • Dennis Sanders in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        I think part of the issue here is that Target has always thought of itself as “not WalMart,” that, and the parachioal nature of Minnesota. Don’t get me wrong, I love living here, but more often than not there is a kind of closed-off sort of thinking that can’t see past their own viewpoint.

        Just because you have a degree don’t mean your’e smart.Report

    • Dennis Sanders in reply to Damon says:

      Yeah, but it seems a waste to just give up after two years. The whole Canada move just seemed to half-assed. I know sometimes businesses don’t translate well in another country, but this was all Target’s problem. I guess it bugs me because I feel a brand I liked disappointed Canadians who expected more.Report

  5. I can’t comment on the business decisions at the higher levels or how it operated in Canada, but speaking as a customer, it seems to have gone downhill in some respects. The weird thing is, I have a hard time pointing to specifics. It used to be fun to go there, and now it’s not. It does seem, as in Jaybird’s example, not to have stuff I’d expect it to. (#firstworldproblems, of course.)

    I do have a speculation/observation about the pharmacy screw up, though. They bombed the customer service, especially in not notifying you when it was done and in not knowing they had filled the prescription when you came to pick it up. I suspect, however, that the error once committed might not be something they could fix right away, because of whatever laws regulate pharmacies. So them not being able to help you right away after their initial screw up might have been a result of regulation. Which would be one reason why their initial screw up is so bad. (Or not. I’m not a pharmacist and don’t know what rules they have to follow.)

    I still like Target better than Walmart, however. That might be a regional thing. In Chicago, I’ve been to only one Walmart, and it seems almost like a Walgreens or CVS but with a small selection of groceries. And I already live within one mile to 3 Walgreens and 2 CVS’s. And those companies, at least in Chicago, are starting to experiment with offering groceries. (Again, #firstworldproblems)

    Finally, nice to see you around these parts, Dennis. I like reading your posts!Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

      Yeah; laws (and practices established by billions of dollars’ worth of lawsuits) are really weird when it comes to pharmacies dispensing drugs.

      And yet I can buy all the vodka I want just by waving a driver’s licence at the checkout clerk.Report

    • Dennis Sanders in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:


      I do agree that some of the issue with the pharmacy was regulation. What bothered me more was how I was treated, like it was all my fault. If they had said they were sorry and can’t refill it because of rules, I wouldn’t have been happy, but I would have understood.Report

  6. Will Truman says:

    Tangential, but I was telling my wife that Walmart has really upgraded their house brands. In addition to the really good salsa I mentioned, their soft drinks are better than any house brand this side of Kroger (and some are even better than Big K). They also do really good rotisserie chickens compared to other places (less dry).Report

    • Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

      Do they have reduced-nutmeg coke? I have a special fondness for fairly cheap sodas.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Kim says:

        I… don’t know that they do. Their fruit drinks are about as good as anything this side of Hawaiian Punch, though, and their Mountain Dew variant is second only to Big K Citrus Drop (Mountain Dew variants are very hard to get right).Report

    • Speaking of Kroger, their local grocery chain here are the only large stores I go to where the entire staff asks if they can help you find something. The people stocking shelves ask. The person behind the butcher counter asks, and knows where the raisins are if that’s what you need instead of meat. There seem to be some number of people just wondering around, all of whom ask. This seems to be a fairly recent development, like in the last year or so.Report

  7. Brandon Berg says:

    Related to that is that if you go grocery shopping you will realize when you get to the checkout that there are certain items that aren’t available at the bullseye.

    By “certain items,” do you mean all of them? I’ve been to Target as recently as 2013 and never seen groceries. Is that a new thing?Report

  8. Troublesome Frog says:

    Target has earned a lot of loyalty from me due to two innovations:

    1) The Shopping Cart Whose Four Wheels Always Touch The Ground.
    2) The Hand Basket Whose Handle Runs Front to Back.

    Number 2 is one of those inventions that is so obvious in retrospect that one wonders why it took decades for somebody to figure it out. You never see somebody carrying a suitcase or bowling ball back with a handle that runs perpendicular to the direction of travel and turns your wrist the wrong way. Why grocery baskets were the one exception to this rule for so long is baffling to me now, even though I didn’t think twice about it until Target fixed the problem.Report

  9. Saul Degraw says:

    I’ve never lived in an area with Wal-Marts in a reasonable distance*. I’ve lived in areas with Targets though.

    I don’t do much regular shopping there. They are a place I go to for stuff like toothpaste, deodorant, mouth wash, etc. They are good for that. They have never run out of products I liked.

    Unsurprisingly, I don’t buy clothing at Target.

    *The nearest Wal-Marts are in the East Bay and require a car. I can walk to a Target in about 18 minutes from my apartment.Report

    • Chris in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Unsurprisingly, I don’t buy clothing at Target.

      You clearly haven’t been paying attention to their designer collaborations.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

        You know, I *DID* see a $300 shirt at Target the other day.

        It wasn’t embroidered, though.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        A $300 shirt at Target? Damn.

        I’m wearing a t-shirt from Target right now. If I remember correctly, it cost $9.99. It’s purple. It looks like pretty much any purple t-shirt of any price. Except the one with diamonds sewn in. That one looks different.Report

      • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Chris says:

        Back when I was more carefree with my money, I bought almost all of my clothes at Target, with each major item (shirt, pants) ranging from $10 to $20. Now I get such items of comparable quality at thrift stores for at least half the price, and usually 1/4 the price. (However, if I get a job that has a stricter dress code, then I might have to go back to shopping at Target.)

        I still buy underwear and socks at Target, though. I haven’t drunk the thrift-store Kool-aid for those items yet.


    • Mike Schilling in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I haven’t spent much time at Target since we used to buy diapers for the kids, who are now in college. I’m outing myself as a suburbanite, but most of my shopping is at Safeway, Trader Joe’s, or Costco, with the occasional trek to Home Depot, where I just bought a $30 ceiling light that would have been about $100 at the fancy lighting store.Report

  10. Notme says:

    Frankly i never understood what folks found so chic about Target. It mostly seemed to be that it wasnt that boogey man Wal-Mart.Report

    • Damon in reply to Notme says:

      I’ve been in the stores. They were clean, well organized, with plenty of stock. The staff was pleasant and helpful. Sadly, they didn’t carry certain things that wal mart did, but I knew I could get lot’s of domestics there and the bath mats and stuff like that were nicer than wal mart and not as pricey as Bed Bath and Beyond.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to Damon says:

        Same perception here. I prefer Target to WalMart because it’s easier for me to see the product when it’s in its packaging on the shelves instead of opened up and strewn all over the floor. The small additional savings offered by WalMart’s scrimping in those areas just isn’t worth it most of the time.Report

    • Richard Hershberger in reply to Notme says:

      The Evil Wal-Mart aspect is part of it (and I write this as a former Wal-Mart employee: it was a hell hole to work in back in the 1990s; nothing I have heard suggests it has improved since). But this isn’t all of it. Just the fact that the aisles are filled with crap. Wal Mart uses the aisle as merchandising space. Target uses it as a space for the customers to use while getting to the merchandise. It so happens I went to the local Wal-Mart just yesterday. It has my favored brand of bath soap in a multi-pack, while it is hard to find even in single bars elsewhere, so there I went, and made a shopping trip of it. Navigating the store was a frustrating experience. The main aisles are blocked with pallets of crap. The side aisles are just wide enough for two carts, which is to say that they are too narrow if one cart isn’t perfectly straight, or if they put an additional display in the aisle, which they frequently do.

      Beyond this, Wal-Mart’s men’s clothing has always been terrible. This was true even back in the 1990s. The one time I made an emergency purchase of a dress shirt, it had loose threads and was fraying immediately. Target, by contrast, is a reasonable place to buy decently made clothing.

      Finally, I don’t trust brands at Wal-Mart. I’m not talking about Wal-Mart brands. I’m talking about name brands, sold at Wal-Mart. They have a history of demanding ever-lower wholesale prices from their suppliers, with the result that the suppliers manufacture shoddy versions just for Wal-Mart. They are selling cheap knock-offs, even if the label is legit. I recently bought a new computer. Wal-Mart had a name brand with the specs and price I was looking for. I thought long and hard about it, then drove forty-five minutes to a more reputable retailer, where I ended up buying the name brand for the same specs and price. Was I being unnecessarily paranoid? Perhaps. But perhaps not.Report

    • Kim in reply to Notme says:

      Less ratshit, primarily.
      I value stores which don’t cause allergic reactions.Report