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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Brand Perceptions: Target Shopping Carts

target target target originally uploaded by Supercapacity.
I witnessed an interesting situation today involving Target shopping buggies and it affected my perception of the Target brand.

I had just parked my car, and was walking purposefully first towards Dick's Sporting Goods [they carry Croc Jibbitz accessories!] before going to Target. As I crossed the street, I noticed a woman pushing a shopping cart and 3 kids: a small one sitting in the front seat, one inside the buggy and the oldest hanging off the end of the cart [something my daughter frequently does].

All of a sudden, she comes to an abrupt stop, so abrupt that the child hanging off the end falls off [which is why kids shouldn't be doing this, but they do]. She picks up the child, gets her back on the buggy and tries to vigorously push that cart again, but it won't budge. It had obviously worked just fine [this was the end of her shopping expedition], and now it was absolutely paralyzed! What was going on?

Luckily, she was at the edge of the main thoroughfare, but she was still blocking traffic. Try as hard as she could, she couldn't move it and was obviously getting frustrated.

A woman in a car tells her not to worry, that there's nothing wrong with the buggy, but that the yellow strip in the parking lot was the reason for the freeze-up: no buggies beyond that point. Wow. Isn't that extremely helpful information! The woman successfully screeches the cart around to point in the opposite direction and maneuvers differently to her car.

I was stunned.

When I finished with my errand at Dick's, I paid closer attention to the yellow strips and looked to see if there was any signage explaining to poor unsuspecting souls [I could have been that woman] that a perimeter had been drawn around the Target parking lot -similar to those invisible fences for dogs- and shopper beware if you go beyond it! I did see a beat up metal sign that looked a lot like a parking sign on the sidewalk at about the same level as the yellow strips. I was looking for it. Otherwise, I never would have paid attention to it.

Now, on one hand the solution to keeping shopping buggies from wandering to extremes of strip malls is pretty clever. In fact, these two articles New devices stopping shopping-cart thieves by Edmund Mander and Attention, Shoplifters" from Business Week dated 9/11/2006 suggest that the issue is much bigger than I had even imagined. But, why not explain it better? or communicate it more?

Many stores have physical barriers to prevent the carts from leaving the immediate premises. It's a low tech solution, and perhaps irritating, but very difficult to not get. Here, the solution is more elegant, but way too subtle. We have little experience with this level of technology. Not only is it still unexpected, but it isn't intuitive. This woman would never had understood had the driver not stopped to explain. She's busy, she has 3 kids in tow, she's just finished her shopping expedition and Target not only slowed her down, it scared her [her child could have been injured], and it frustrated her. Not a good thing to do to your core woman shopper!

I admire Target from so many perspectives, so was doubly shocked that they hadn't considered the shopper in the solution. The scenario just didn't match up with my interpretation of the Target brand and the Target retail experience.

This wikipedia article on Target Corporation includes a lot of good information on Target. Immediately before the section on Distribution Centers, you will see mention of shopping carts with locking wheels....

And, this other wikipedia article about shopping carts includes a section on theft prevention [a big deal with shopping carts] and the locking wheel concept, including some of the injuries associated.

So, when you come up with elegant solutions, don't forget to consider that experience from your customer's perspective. Make sure to communicate with HER, multiple times. In this case, why not have a message on the buggy, remind her at checkout, and also closer to the perimeter area?

Remember that if you communicate with her and give her information, she will get on board. She will be happy to cooperate and become a part of your solution. But, if you don't, you might not like the results.

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