The Shops at Target: Hype…then huh.

by Cinda Baxter on May 14, 2012

in Big boxes, Brand management, Independent Retailers

The (entire) Candy Store, outlined in yellow

Recent television ads about The Shops at Target have had countless independent retailers spinning like a whirling dervish. “Store within a store” concepts have been highly successful for numerous vendors (think: the Coach department at Macy’s, the Kiehl’s counters at Nordstrom, and a bazillion Vera Bradley walls in gift shops everywhere). Incorporating the format into big boxes—using the “local independents” angle, no less—has rattled more than a couple of cages.

The fact Target advertises these “Shops” as “a curated collection of home, beauty, fashion and pet products from…specialty stores” doesn’t help, painting a picture of cozy environments bubbling with delight, nestled between familiar red walls, bursting with exciting designs, catchy displays, oh-my-gosh-that’s-to-die-for offerings.

Well folks, they aren’t. Not even close.

I took a little stroll through Target yesterday morning, here in the land where the big red bullseye was born. You can’t miss the theme—two feet in the door, huge versions of each “shop’s” store sign float overhead, with a giant “The Shops at Target” sign in the center.

But that’s where the impact ends.

Cos-Bar's "store" (outlined in yellow)

Much to my shock (and glee), the “Shops” turned out to be no more than endcap displays. Plain ol’ run of the mill endcaps. Shelves. Product lined up on shelves. The only hint that there’s something different going on is that these particular endcaps have a small “Shops” sign dangling overhead in the aisle, complemented by a smaller store-specific sign on the header. (Cos-Bar somehow managed to get a second sign dangling over the aisle at their single endcap.)

With the exception of Privet House (who had a couple of non-adjacent aisles to accommodate large items), each “shop” had one, maybe two endcaps—also, not adjacent. In fact, no two displays for a single “store” were along the same sight line.


Privet House (baskets, boxes, but no extra signage)

The resulting effect was the opposite of what most retailers feared. Instead of dynamic consumer magnets, the displays look like normal Target fare with a couple of interesting signs. No more. No less. Just stuff on shelves.

Like anyone, I’m curious about what, exactly, these featured “stores” get in the deal, other than face time on t.v. There won’t be financial windfalls—big boxes don’t give anything away, nor do they repeat something for very long. Find it. Get it. Sell it. Next.

When the resulting fifteen minutes of fame comes to a close, these once-independent retailers will likely find themselves in the same pickle as many small vendors, post-big-box-involvement: With a brand that’s diluted by over-exposure, recategorized as mainstream, and supported by far fewer customers than they originally had going in.

It’s just like Grandpa Baxter said—there’s no such thing as a quick fortune.

GW May 14, 2012 at 8:08 am

Found my way here through a 3/50 Project post on Facebook. Wow is right. I, too, am underwhelmed. If they had to do it, they’d have been better done as a separate little boutique spot set up adjacent to a high traffic area in the store.

RAbbruzzese May 14, 2012 at 10:25 am

I’ve been waiting to see this and just as the writer explains, I too am happy and gleefully laughing that they didn’t get this right. Boo for those retailers who said yes, this is what you should trust – the big box retailers. Our small independent shops need to ban together in other ways to get the face time with potential customers, which will increase their sales. City’s and town managers across the globe need to assist in sharing mom/pop shops to help them grow and prosper. Congrats Target on getting this wrong.

Matt May 14, 2012 at 10:56 am

Box stores love the marketing hype of being local, but put no effort or thought into it. The problem is; the marketing hype works because so many people buy in to it.

Mary Schmidt May 14, 2012 at 11:46 am

Oh, that’s WHAT this is…I barely noticed. I do, however, what happened to their seasonal/theme shop areas they used to have – middle eastern, etc. Now, those were more of a threat to locals (as a local storeowner enlightened me.)

Kenja May 14, 2012 at 11:51 am

I too, was drawn in by a promised botique experience in my somewhat rural town. I was underwhelmed. Two clothes racks among a gazillion of others.

Christy Watychowicz May 14, 2012 at 12:46 pm

I have to agree, especially with your final remarks. I wondered why a high-end fashion house like Missoni would create mayhem at Target with their low-price offerings. Now when I spot anyone in a Missoni-esque print I have to wonder if it’s real or, more likely, from Target. From now on I think the “real” Missoni will lead most to question the same thing. If my favorite brands ended up in Target I’d be worried about their longterm future.

Courtney May 14, 2012 at 1:00 pm

I agree. I saw them, and thought they were pretty lame with cheap looking merchandise.

Brandi May 14, 2012 at 2:11 pm

I’m glad to hear this will hopefully be a failure of an experiment. I was so disappointed to hear about a local San Francisco independent store getting involved with Target and then bragging about it as though selling out to a corporate chain that is known only for having cheap prices for things mass-manufactured in China was something to be proud of. It only hurts our handmade, DIY culture to have indie retailers work with big box chains- people are already hard enough to convince that there’s a reason we have to charge higher prices than places like Target- namely because our products are handmade by people who are not exploited in factories abroad, and because our products are actually high quality. So to work with the enemy like this just hurts all of us who are trying to make an honest living in the retail world, and kills the spirit of handcrafting.

Charles Minguez May 22, 2012 at 8:59 pm

I am also curious what the featured stores get out of the deal? From your pictures it doesn’t seem like there’s much going on. I like the idea of a store within a store-like a market place, but it should be reserved for an actual market place. I’ll stick to the farmers market.

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