Target Wins Perception as Reality Battle
By George Anderson
A Crain’s Chicago Business article points out that, on paper, Target doesn’t appear to operate its business much differently than Wal-Mart.
Both companies operate big box stores manned by non-union labor and stocked primarily with goods made outside the U.S. If Wal-Mart’s presence is said to drive smaller, local retailers out of business, then Target probably has a similar impact.
So why does Target generally receive favorable press coverage (aside from the Salvation Army controversy), while Wal-Mart does not?
Target, it seems, has benefited from the perception that it is more caring about its employees and the communities it serves while Wal-Mart has been portrayed as the commercial equivalent of the alien Borg race from Star Trek: The Next Generation (“Resistance is futile.”).
The perception battle, say observers, is exactly why Target has a reasonably easy time getting permission to build new stores, for example, while Wal-Mart brings out opponents at every turn.
Paul Vogel, principal at the retail real estate consulting firm Realty Development Research Inc., told Crain’s, “Target’s politically correct image has helped them in Chicago, while Wal-Mart’s has been a lightning rod. They (Wal-Mart) just manage to alienate people with their anti-union stance. Target may be anti-union, too, but they’re much more sophisticated about how they handle it.”
Wal-Mart, say others, is also a bigger target.
Madeline Talbott, executive director of the Illinois chapter of Community Organizations for Reform Now, a group opposed to Wal-Mart opening stores in Chicago, said, “We don’t see that Target has anything to recommend it as far as wages and benefits. But, quite frankly, we see Wal-Mart as bigger and as having more impact on the economy. You have to address the industry leader first, then the others will follow.”
Moderator’s Comment: Is Wal-Mart being judged in political circles and in the press by a different standard than other large retailers? In practical
terms, what does this mean for how Wal-Mart conducts business? What concrete actions can it take to level the perceptual playing field? –
George Anderson – Moderator