Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2014   by Auto Service World

Staying on Target

Jobbers across this country, even those who swore off retail some years ago, have started giving the retail option a second, hard look in the face of a tough commercial sales environment. But if ever there was an object lesson in how tough the retail world can be, you need only look as far as Target.
The American discount retailer has enjoyed a seemingly unassailable position as the leader of discount chic. Some shoppers add a tongue-in-cheek French accent to the store brand (so that it rhymes with “Fabergé” or “today”) as a nod to the fact that, for a lot of folks, the store made saving money cool.
So, when it was announced a couple of years ago that Target had taken over many of the former Zellers’ spaces and was coming to Canada, Canadian fans of the brand got very excited. No doubt this was no surprise to Target’s executives, who apparently took that excitement for granted.
The trouble is that when it finally launched, many Canadian shoppers felt disappointed; rather than getting the whiz-bang rush of the bright U.S. stores, the Canadian locations seemed like dingy, cramped Zellers remakes. Too many of the prices didn’t seem good enough, too many of the products weren’t different, there were not enough unique offerings, and so on.
Not that this was true across the board; many of the locations came up to speed very quickly and now provide that “Target experience” quite well. But in a world where first impressions count for a lot, in too many cases Target failed to live up to the expectations of its Canadian customer base – a customer base that had high expectations of the brand, learned through their cross-border shopping habits.
To my mind, there were a number of decisions made along the way that caused the company to short-change its brand promise. Target compromised where it should not have, and the evidence is there that their decision-makers were the sadder and wiser for it. Target axed its Canadian CEO over the poor post-launch performance, and his replacement went so far as to beg Canadian shoppers for a second chance. Whether the Canadian shoppers will give the store that chance remains to be seen – I think they will, provided Target makes good on its promise – but the message we can all take from this is that buyers, whether they are shoppers or professionals, have a very clear idea what your brand stands for and if you don’t live up to that brand promise, you are in trouble.
That brand promise is a combination of product, price, service, and shopping experience. This list is not exclusive to retail by any stretch; it’s just most acutely observed in that space.
So it would be wise to understand your brand promise for both retail and professional customers. While every auto parts operation has its own unique brand, one thing they do share is that they are more than parts and prices; they have the expertise to help customers make the right decisions.
But having the expertise is not enough; you must ensure that the expertise you do have is put to use, not locked away in the back room.
Not every counterperson willingly jumps into the retail customer service role, but it’s important that at least some of your crew does, if you hope to succeed in the increasingly important – and demanding – retail world. Target learned that lesson the hard way.
— Andrew Ross, editor and publisher

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