Survey to Gauge Public Perception of Target

Discussion
Sep 30, 2009
George Anderson

By George Anderson

For years Target has been lauded for understanding just exactly
what it stands for and what that means to consumers. Now, it appears, the
company is a little less certain of its place in the retailing cosmos and
so has hired a public opinion research firm to find out what a “variety of
constituents,” including members of the media, think about it.

Susan Kahn, a spokesperson for the retailer, told Bloomberg
News
, “For a company like Target, a national company,
it makes sense obviously to understand how we’re perceived externally.

Nu Wexler, an account director at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide,
said, "Even if it’s just a preventative measure for Target, it’s a smart
move and something that more large companies are considering in this climate.”

Target has hired Public Strategies Inc. to conduct the research.
The firm is the same company Target hired to do research during its proxy
fight with activist investor William Ackman earlier this year. 

In a letter to shareholders, Target CEO Greg Steinhafel wrote,
that Public Strategies would “offer recommendations that
will inform our long-term strategies.” 

Discussion Questions: Are you surprised
that Target is using a public-opinion research firm to get a handle on
its reputation among a “variety of constituents?” Is this an exercise
that has real value for all retailers and not just large chains such
as Target?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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21 Comments on "Survey to Gauge Public Perception of Target"


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Anne Howe
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

Perception is reality and Target is acting wisely to get a fresh new set of information on how it is perceived among a variety of its constituents. The ability for current perception research to inform strategy is a cornerstone of marketing, so I’m not sure why this would be seen as anything other than business as usual for a national brand.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

Target definitely lost a lot of its mojo during the economic downturn. I’m not quite sure if fear or focus groups drove it to become more or less a Walmart wannabe, but that’s what happened. The new value message just didn’t work for the retailer. Now, if I were Target, I would wonder if the “frugalista” message was resonating. It’s an odd one.

Plus, it struck me that many of the company’s weaknesses were exposed as its sales declined. The ability to balance inventory and maintain in-stock positions always seemed just a bit dicey, and as sales declined, stock-to-sales ratios were clearly managed at a department level. In other words, stores were out of stock on some product and over-stocked on the stuff you probably didn’t want to buy. This looks like a technology issue…not managing or measuring inventory at a granular enough level.

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
11 years 7 months ago

I’m certainly not surprised that Target wants to know what others think of the chain, both consumers and the media. Most companies should take the lead from Target and want to know what the public perception of their business really is.

I am surprised, however, that Target has decided to go the route of traditional market research to find the answer. While social media is not the answer to marketing issues, the fact is if Target would set up the proper number of listening stations on the proper number of social media sites, they would hear what the consumer is saying about them in real time, and not have to wait for the market research report to be delivered.

I’m a bit surprised that a company as progressive as Target is is utilizing such non-progressive techniques.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
11 years 7 months ago
Public opinion research is interesting but if not done right, the results can be skewed and not very accurate or actionable. What this move shows is a possible lack of confidence on Target’s part, which is understandable. This past year has not been easy for anyone. Target has an amazing research team in-house and in stores every day–their employees. I would encourage Target to work with store managers and solicit their opinion with supplemental data provided from their POS systems. Who knows a specific store shopper better then the local store managers and their staff? What could Target do on their own? 1) Have managers work with store employees and educate them on how to solicit feedback from customers.2) Create a formal process for feeding that data back to a central store location.3) Roll that data up to headquarters and review it by store, region, etc. My assumption is, Target’s store managers and their teams have some amazing ideas related to what is working and what needs to be improved. Getting them involved will build… Read more »
Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
11 years 7 months ago

As an analyst covering retail technology, it does not surprise me. Target has done extensive research on consumers in the past, even going to the lengths of hiring anthropologist-based research firms to follow volunteer customers around with video cameras as they shopped in the store and even at home after they bought the products.

As a consumer who shops Target regularly, I’m glad to hear it. I think Target has gotten a little complacent about their offering, and I’m glad that they are aware enough about this as an issue that they are going to do something about it–and do it through an external company, rather than have a project filtered through their own rose-colored glasses.

By most accounts, consumers have changed. Every retailer could benefit from reassessing what they think they know about how consumers shop and what they want from their favorite retailers. As NRF’s Halloween spending survey has shown, if you base your assumptions on trends from pre-2008, you might drastically miss the mark.

Roger Saunders
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

Listening to the customer has always been a core practice and competency of Target. They have been a leader within the retail industry in this regard, and they have the marketing, merchandising, allocation, and store operations teams focusing their lens on the “behavior,” “attitude,” “opinions,” and “actions” of the consumer.

This looks like a step to “sharpen the saw,” and help all of the organization keep an eye on the asset that drives their business–what’s in the mind of the consumer.

Dick Seesel
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

Any company–especially a large business focused on consumers–should make a regular habit of surveying its customers and non-customers alike. I hope Target has followed this practice for years, but especially now that its position in the marketplace seems somewhat confused.

Is Target’s greater focus on “value” sinking in with the consumer, or does it continue to have a perception of being too high-priced vs. Walmart? Does Target’s long-standing brand positioning centered on “design” and more aspirational apparel and home goods continue to resonate with its core customer? These are important questions to pose in the survey, as long as the answers don’t result in an abandonment of the brand position that has served Target well.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

For too long, Target and other retailers have made assumptions about who their core customers are and what means most to them. Target is wise to seek additional input as its customers question Target’s value proposition, relevance in categories such as grocery, and the degree to which Target delivers on its hip marketing promise. There has never been a better time to solicit feedback and re-craft strategies, ones that don’t hinge on shopping habits returning to the way they were. This is particularly true for Target!

David Biernbaum
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

The success of Target’s public opinion survey will depend on how the survey is approached, utilized, and interpreted. For example, will the survey be used to learn and consider modifications thereafter, or will the survey be used to prove a preconceived notion that can be used for advertising and marketing purposes? In my opinion, Target has done a phenomenal job separating its image from other channel stores, and from all competitors. However, my perception has been that sometimes Target misses its own boat in being a trend setter by not being more open to working with smaller brands, entrepreneurs, and innovators. There is a bit of irony in that way.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
11 years 7 months ago

Finding out how constituents feel about the brand is simply smart business. Every successful, major brand should strive to better understand how consumers, customers and other groups view the brand and then use that feedback to improve the business.

In Target’s case, I think some of the surprise here is that the chain enjoyed a very favorable reputation for many years–and still does in large part. But the recession dulled some of that glow because the brand’s hip, upscale image didn’t resonate with consumers who were hunkering down to live more simple, practical lifestyles.

On a more fundamental level, the retail industry is full of fast followers willing and able to quickly emulate the success of retail leaders, such as Target. One of the best ways to stay ahead of the pack is to find out what consumers are thinking and then working to ensure Target is the brand that successfully delivers on those desires.

Robert Craycraft
Guest
Robert Craycraft
11 years 7 months ago

In my view, Target started to lose its way with the selling of the department store division from its Dayton-Hudson roots. Almost immediately the merchandise and the merchandising became less interesting and the line with Walmart started to blur.

Today, I would choose a Walmart Supercenter over Target for reasonable quality products in a clean, pleasant environment that I would actually enjoy shopping in. Three years ago, that is how I would have described Target and I would have avoided Walmart at all costs.

Unless something changes quickly and dramatically, I don’t see a place for Target in an environment where Walmart becomes the “better” choice and Kmart owns the bottom.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

Like others who have commented on this story, the success of the public opinion research depends on a variety of factors: research strategy, design, etc. However, this research needs to be used in conjunction with other research vehicles, e.g., focus groups, customer surveys, and observation, in order to get a complete picture of Target’s perception, opportunities and challenges.

Yes, a value-added research component, but nothing more than one more piece of a larger consumer and market puzzle.

David Livingston
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

Somehow it seems when Target does research, we all know what the results will be. Researchers always tell Target they need to be some benevolent, liberal company that promotes diversity and caters to busy moms. That they need to charge high prices and advertise that prices are low. No one wants to tell them the truth that they need to be a brutal retailer and that in retailing, nice guys finish last.

Target does need to do this research but they need a research firm that tells them the truth and not what their weak-kneed management wants to hear. Target needs to hire real researchers and stay away from inexperienced MBAs with bad hair and a briefcase.

Joan Treistman
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

I’m not surprised that Target would conduct research to better understand how they are perceived in the marketplace and media. What does surprise me is that they would use public opinion research, which is very stringent in regard to how the research is conducted and the rules which apply to publication. It suggests that the research is intended for investors and perhaps marketing strategy.

When you see polls published in the papers you can see the questionnaire and details of the sample. Target, or whoever, has to make the information accessible and must show the results from all the questions predetermined to be published. That’s public opinion research, very common for public relations firms.

When a company conducts research to understand their competitive position and plan strategies the research is usually not published externally. To do so would be to give away their confidential and proprietary information.

Mark Burr
Guest
11 years 7 months ago
Opinions on Target seem to sway back and forth from analysts, consumers, and apparently Target themselves. Mine did. I wrote recently that they shopped much better by back-to-school then the past holiday season. They have reacted, taken action and appeared to have executed well. What they are doing is a good thing. However, if they take it, as mentioned, as their only source as they strategize, they could be misled. I doubt that will be the case, but it’s worth a warning. Continuing to be a ‘value’ retailer in what at best can be described as an ‘uneasy’ market remains their challenge. It’s an easy alternative for consumers to go right to the bottom when faced with continuing poor confidence. The most important factor would be to find out what has kept consumers there and what has driven them away to the bottom-level retailers. Consumers are still edgy, based on their own conditions and that of their neighbors, in spite of predictions that the recession is ‘technically over’. It would be more of a surprise… Read more »
Eliott Olson
Guest
Eliott Olson
11 years 7 months ago

I don’t see why Target’s use of research should even be a topic of discussion. It is a professionally run company taking its stockholders investment seriously. A better question to ponder is why so many retailers on the brink of extinction think that they know what their customers are thinking, wanting and needing when they don’t have a clue.

A know-it-all attitude and a domineering personality gets a lot of operations people promoted in retail. However, that same personality trait fails them when it comes to listening to the customer and team building. The waste bin of retailing is filled with such individuals.

Jonathan Marek
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

Some in the BrainTrust have questioned Target’s use of such “traditional” research means. I think traditional surveys are perfectly fine techniques, so long as you keep the context of what information you are/are not getting.

Surveys are a great way of identifying gaps between intended brand positioning and perception. They help executives create more informed hypotheses about what might close the gap. Other research vehicles (social media, following consumers in-store, focus groups, computer-based virtual reality studies, etc.) can help too. Intelligent executives will constantly be looking at this data, pulling together and updating their best-guess perspective on the perception of their business.

But none of these techniques really tell you what a consumer will truly do when she’s in the store. Only a real-world test can do that.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

Target’s getting all of this advice on RW for free, why would it want to pay for some???

OK, fun’s over…there are two interpretations here: Either they are simply doing what any competent company would do (cover all their bases and get info from any- and everywhere they can) or they have lost their way (and are looking for someone to tell them where to go); obviously the former is good, the latter is not. Which is it? I don’t know, but I think we worry about this company too much…there are plenty of other retailers out there that merit more concern.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
11 years 7 months ago

Target has been squeezed in this recession as the “fashion discounter,” which could also be read “discretionary discounter.” It’s turned out to be a difficult space to occupy.

Target’s strategy assumed (as did most everyone else’s) that their customer has disposable income to spend. They built their assortments around what turned out to be discretionary items within their price ranges. Those categories have suffered. At the same time, Target was unable to attract the mid-tier department store customer trading down. Those customers turned to TJ Maxx and Marshalls instead.

This leaves Target in a tricky spot. They are smart to have commissioned this study. I would not anticipate any big change in Target’s strategy, but this should help them tweak their positioning and message to make themselves more relevant once again to their target customer.

James Tenser
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

I’m not the first person on this thread to imply this, but it seems like Target is asking itself, “Where are we?” on the shopping public’s mental map. Answering this question reliably demands consumer research–probably using several techniques.

Being the “upscale discounter” seemed like a defensible position in fatter times, but when the whole market is trading down it tends toward oxymoronic.

If Target feels a bit whipsawed by the current economy, I say join the club. Taking stock of public opinion at a time like this seems like a fundamental tactic. No controversy there. It’s clearly a moment to re-set the forecasting models–and not just at Target.

William Passodelis
Guest
11 years 7 months ago
I think Mr Hurlbut’s comments are great–Target IS in a sticky situation. It is NOT Marshalls or TJMaxx or Ross to which many have traded down, and it is not Kohl’s which is much more mid-tier department store–as he said it is the upscale discounter and has been perceived as such for many years–thus the affectionate nick name of “tar-jay” given it by so many. It DOES tend toward “discretionary” even though this may not be, and in reality, is not fair. This IS where Target lives in the minds of many people. Their pricing is fairly on par with Wal Mart and slightly less on some items! They need to make people see and believe that even though they do what they do with style and flair, their prices are competitive and they are a place to turn to in this environment and economic situation. The recession may be “over” on Wall Street but it is still presently going strong on Main Street. Fighting the giant is hard; I wish Target all the best.… Read more »
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