MINNEAPOLIS — As a Target “beauty concierge,” young Chelsea Mathison prowls the cosmetic aisles at the retailer’s Nicollet Mall store, sweetly asking shoppers if they need beauty tips and recommendations.
The clerk seems an unlikely front-line warrior in the Minneapolis-based retailer’s effort to embrace showrooming — where consumers fiddle with products in stores, only to surf their smartphones to see if they can buy the items cheaper somewhere else. Amping up customer service in key product areas such as beauty is one way Target hopes to address the fast-growing showrooming trend, especially as the crucial holiday shopping season approaches.
Showrooming might be a delightful win for value-oriented shoppers, but it has likely made retail executives gnash their teeth.
Not Casey Carl, however. Last month, Target’s president of multichannel declared in a widely read essay on Target’s website that he loves showrooming. Well, he qualified, as long as Target books the sale. Devising a strategy to do just that means embracing a “utopian” version of Target where consumers seamlessly access bull’s-eye merchandise in stores, on the Web, through social media and via smartphones, Carl said in a recent interview. He calls it a “multichannel journey where the experience is truly personalized. If we do that, ultimately that’s where we win.”
Amy Koo, senior analyst with Kantar Retail in Boston, said that “obviously, the elephant in the room is Amazon,” the $61 billion online marketplace. “In the last year, there have been a lot of adjustments by Target to counter the Amazon challenge, a lot of initiatives, some of which have not been fruitful, but it’s a good start,” she said.
Koo said there now appears to be a new, open attitude about showrooming. “They’re saying, ‘We know we have to do something.’”
Carl concedes “it’s still very early in this revolution,” and different strategies need to be vetted both in stores and online, all of which are aimed at encouraging showrooming in such a way that benefits Target. To that end, Target began offering free Wi-Fi in stores last year, and it’s rolling out in-store pickup of online orders to its 1,800 stores (meaning free shipping). There’s also a social media digital savings program called Cartwheel that the company built by partnering with Facebook.
And, beyond the beauty concierge service, which has been instituted in 200 stores, Target is testing a new concept called Baby 360 in the Chicago area aimed at new and expecting mothers, a sweet spot in the retailer’s core demographic.
Target’s customer service effort on the beauty concierge front provides an interesting peek into consumer behavior. Some patrons reacted with surprise or blank stares when Mathison approached them one recent afternoon — after all, such personalized service has long been relegated to department stores.
“Most people say they’re doing fine on their own, and then 30 seconds later they ask for help,” she said.