Target gets cheers and jeers for gender-neutral signage

Discussion
Aug 10, 2015

Target is removing gender labels from signs in some of its kids departments following complaints from some customers about signage in stores that designated certain toys for girls.

The impetus for change appears to have begun when a Target customer in Green, Ohio complained about aisle signs for "Building Sets" and "Girls Building Sets." The customer, Abi Bechtel, took a photo of the sign and sent out a tweet: "Don’t do this, @Target."

"It stood out to me as a good example of the way our culture tends to view boys and men as the default, normal option and girls and women as the specialized exception," Ms. Bechtel told CNN in June. "I hope that Target and other retailers will pay attention to this conversation and consider removing gender from the way they market their toys."

On Target’s "A Bullseye View" site, the retailer said gender designations make sense in some departments such as clothing while others such as toys, home and entertainment do not. The chain is currently in the process of removing signs for boys and girls bedding in its home departments and replacing them with kids. It also plans to stop using color references such as pink, blue, yellow and black on the back walls of shelves in toy aisles, as well.

Target store sign=

Source: Twitter

Response to Target’s decision was greeted with both cheers and jeers from its customers on social media. Those who support the decision tend to think the gender labels are outdated while those against see Target making the change simply as cave to the politically correct police.

Do you agree or disagree with Target’s decision to remove gender designations from store signs in departments such as toys and home? Would the chain have been smarter to make the changes it intends without announcing plans to do so or do you favor transparency in this case?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I agree with Target’s decision — they are not taking gender-targeted items off the shelf, they are simply removing labels."
"This is one person in Ohio with too much time and a cell phone. Who really cares? To kids there is a difference between boys and girls."
"These decisions aren’t made in a vacuum (hopefully!). Target is simply trying to sell more stuff. If a simple sign helps achieve that goal, then bring on the signs!"

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27 Comments on "Target gets cheers and jeers for gender-neutral signage"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

Target should do whatever sells more stuff. My guess is that gender identification is not really necessary to make it easier to shop in the stores. There just aren’t that many aisles for toys that you couldn’t figure out, for example, “this one has dolls” or “this one has construction sets” and shop whichever one(s) you want.

Max Goldberg
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

It’s a smart move. There’s no need to be gender-specific in the toy and home departments. Target, who seems to be anxious to get any PR, pumped out another press release. I’m glad to see that Target is listening to its customers. I wonder if I sent them a tweet about their constant out-of-stocks, would they fix that problem?

Zel Bianco
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

I agree with Target’s decision — they are not taking gender-targeted items off the shelf, they are simply removing labels. I can’t imagine many customers will even notice the lack of gendered labeling but it will prevent children from being discouraged to ask for the “wrong” kind of toy. They may have upset a couple Trump-wannabes for being politically correct, but I think there are far more shoppers who will be either encouraged by or indifferent to this decision.

Dick Seesel
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

Those who feel that this is “political correctness run amok” will be outnumbered by those who think this is a sensible idea. Retailers ought to be long past the days of explaining to shoppers that dolls are “supposed to be” for girls and action figures for boys. I’m guessing that Target will get mostly positive response for this change (thus the PR announcement) and will potentially get a lift in sales, too.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

Target’s move will appease those that feel that this is an important issue and not make their stores any easier or more difficult to shop. The gender bias they were asked to address is a cultural issue and not a retail issue. I expect that far more guiding of what is currently deemed appropriate is determined by the child’s parents than store signage.

Tom Redd
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

This is one person in Ohio with too much time and a cell phone. Who really cares? To kids there is a difference between boys and girls. Some stuff boys do and some stuff girls do. Don’t believe me? Ask a 6-year-old.

These are not Millennial-minded 6-year-olds or 7-year-olds. These are kids that want to get the latest Lego building set so that they can show their friends. Now if you stuff the Lego aisle with pink castles and pink Lego horses, what is the average number of these castles that will sell to families with boys?

Target was just trying to make shopping easier with signs that depicted the assortment class of the merchandise. Target changes due to this outcry on Twitter? Stand up for your rights as a retailer, let the complainer shop Kmart, and do any signage you need to, Target, to sell the most and make locating things by shoppers EASIER!

Ignore the noise — do what is right.

 

David Livingston
Guest
6 years 3 months ago
Target is going to do what’s best for Target so I would agree with the changes. Toys might be the exception. I would do a focus group with children to see what they think first. My experience is that small kids for the most part don’t like to be confused about gender. I recall after I learned how to ride a bike, I rode my sister’s (girls) bike one day. I got a lot of verbal abuse from my friends. Why can’t bikes be gender neutral? We really need to find ways to be more neutral in clothing, bedding, decor, etc., or some poor kid out there is going to be accused of having the wrong gender shirt. That sure makes for a long school day. I offered play Barbies with my 5-year-old granddaughter. She immediately pointed out to me that this is unacceptable behavior for a male. I had no real desire to play Barbies but was trying to show her it could be OK if I did. These things get me wondering what’s… Read more »
Adrian Weidmann
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

These decisions aren’t made in a vacuum (hopefully!). Target is simply trying to sell more stuff. If a simple sign helps achieve that goal, then bring on the signs! If the simple sign is accompanied by coverage on mainstream media then the ROI on that sign just went up by orders of magnitude.

The winds of public sentiment and opinion blow erratically. If gaining a few minutes on mainstream media will bring the focus on your brand then pay attention to that wind because it may be blowing in your favor.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

If there’s one term I detest it’s “woman politician.” Have you ever heard of someone referred to as a “man politician?” This makes women really peeved.

Nice move on Target’s part to respond to the perplexed customer and to make a change. Let’s be more thoughtful next time.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

It is ironic that the example that was given was “Building Sets” and “Girls’ Building Sets.” Several weeks ago Bloomberg reported 29 professions where women graduates (aged 22 to 29) earn more than men. Six of them were in Engineering (Chemical, Electrical, Civil, Mechanical, Aerospace and Industrial) and one was in Construction Services. Perhaps they should change the sign to “Building Sets” and Boys’ Building Sets”.

Gender distinction is meaningless and insulting. It is holding on to an era that no longer exists.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

This might be additional input for just how far removed Target is from the market and their consumer base. Perhaps removing some of the electronic feedback options and getting out on the floor to visit the customers in person is in order here. The company now is streamlined to the extent that it is moving into the future with no time for the basics in effective market communication. Yet another indication that the future for this retailer is bleak.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

Why is someone trying to make something out of nothing? Make the change, but who really cares?

J. Peter Deeb
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

This is another example of a small minority putting panic into the minds of executives and leaders! I can see the meeting where people sit and discuss topics that would go away if properly ignored. How much time and money are wasted on issues that don’t result in the management’s objectives of selling more product and delivering profits to the shareholders? Target and all retailers have to be careful about offending large groups of consumers but this smacks of a knee-jerk reaction to a very small issue.

Richard Wakeham
Guest
Richard Wakeham
6 years 3 months ago

Technology = gender neutral. Throw a couple of computers and cell phones into the toy mix also. Lots of children interested in those.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
6 years 3 months ago

Hey, Target came up with another press release! I assume that was their primary motive here.

But I would definitely have recommended that they make these changes in their stores quietly and gradually and see how their customers responded. Customers in general may not care at all, or they may enjoy seeing a wider range of items , or they may actually care a great deal when they have to wade through a much greater selection of merchandise to find something appropriate for their child. The mistake Target made was publicly singling out that lone Ohio customer as the catalyst for their merchandising signage rather than first testing out the concept with people shopping in those departments and then proudly touting their compliance with broad customer will if generic signage was preferred.

I wonder if Target is going to be coy or vague identifying their girls and boys bedding online as well. I bet not.

Kenneth Leung
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

I think it makes sense, no one is saying that clothing sections should be gender neutral, but in today’s age, is there really a need to state boys versus girls toys? Make the change, I wouldn’t even have announced it, personally.

James Tenser
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

We grownups tend to impose gender traits on kids based on our past experiences—like being teased at school in the 1960s. The neutral signs at Target are not an instance of tyranny of a few complainers, I think, but a change whose time has come.

Children’s toys are laden with semiotic meaning—especially colors. But their significance can evolve with culture. If a girl or a boy wants a pink bike, that choice should be available.

A retailer like Target can unintentionally propagate outdated gender values just by segregating its merchandise by boys and girls. This is why, on balance, I agree with its new policy.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
Carol Spieckerman
6 years 3 months ago

Target’s gender-neutral shift will make these departments easier to operate and, with traditional definitions and constraints removed, could have the effect of amping up the creativity of its suppliers and in-house product/brand development teams.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

I agree with the decision to remove the gender designation on things like toys and sheets and books. However, I disagree with the decision to promote this as a move forward when they are correcting something that should not have happened.

joe mazloom
Guest
joe mazloom
6 years 3 months ago

This is a dumb move by Target as the PC police, or in this case, one customer with a blurred misconception and a desire for 15 minutes of fame creates an impression of some kind of slight or gender bias. Signage and color coding departments have been a part of the retail store layout for over 50 years and it is a customer shopping convenience.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

Announcing this change was probably a good thing for Target. Any time you can get your name in front of the buying public, the better it is. More name sightings means more business. Nothing is sweeter than the sound of the cash register ringing.

Janet Dorenkott
Guest
Janet Dorenkott
6 years 3 months ago

This is a total “knee-jerk reaction” by a company who is so afraid of political correctness that they let one person’s post change the course of their company. When I was raising my kids, it was fashionable for Pampers and Huggies to come out with boys and girls diapers. I’m sure there were valid financial reasons for making that decision.

Today, companies are so afraid of social media that they are making decisions that could financially impact them negatively. I for one, will stop shopping at Target just to prove the point, that boys and girls are different. I agree with David Livingston and Tom Redd’s comments.

As a mom who has both sons and daughters, I’m pretty fed up with the constant attempt to prove there is no difference. There are many differences. Those differences should be celebrated, not dismissed. And as a woman, I’m sick of the media acting like all women think alike. I have my own views on every topic and most are much different than Hollywood’s or the rest of media.

Dan Frechtling
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

I agree with the prior comments that ask if Target conducted research or just reacted to a single shopper in Ohio.

The Target spokesperson mentioned gender as one of the commonly searched for items on Target.com. Judging by the comments on Bullseye, shoppers are at least 10 to 1 opposed to this move.

How does merchandising change? Does Barbie sit adjacent to Batman because the gender-based terms of “dolls” and “action figures” are also outdated? What about role play—does that mean anything anymore?

For categories like games and plush that bypass gender barriers, this is easy. For other categories, it’s not as simple as removing signs.

MATT POWELL
Guest
MATT POWELL
6 years 3 months ago

Boomers see gender as binary (man/woman). Millennials and Generation Z view gender on a spectrum and fluid. This move by Target aligns with the worldview and values of the most important consumers for the future. I’m sure we will see other major retailers adopt the gender-neutral approach to merchandising.

Paul Stanton
Guest
Paul Stanton
6 years 3 months ago

Yes. I hate people and companies overreacting to what they think is politically correct.

Alan Cooper
Guest
Alan Cooper
6 years 3 months ago

In the toys and home departments, there are many “cross-over” items for kids. I believe this is a good business decision. I surely don’t believe that most young boys will start playing with Barbie dolls anyhow. Heck, Bubba Watson has made the pink (golf) driver “cool,” along with promoting a fantastic cause. If Target announced that they would affect this type of change in apparel, then there would be huge issues.

vic gallese
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

Smart move at the right time. Free advertising also.

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Braintrust
"I agree with Target’s decision — they are not taking gender-targeted items off the shelf, they are simply removing labels."
"This is one person in Ohio with too much time and a cell phone. Who really cares? To kids there is a difference between boys and girls."
"These decisions aren’t made in a vacuum (hopefully!). Target is simply trying to sell more stuff. If a simple sign helps achieve that goal, then bring on the signs!"

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