Target has little impact on mall traffic, say store owners
By: Viola Pruss
| Posted: Tuesday, Sep 10, 2013 02:45 pm
Target's May arrival created a brief increase in foot traffic but business is back to normal at St. Albert Centre, say mall business owners.
Rene Rodriguez, manager of McBain Cameras, said Target has not impacted on his business in any way – whether that's taking customers from his store or generating more foot traffic.
“It's basically been a net-zero change. The food court area has become more busy and the central hallway seems to be more heavy with foot traffic but that's just my superficial impression,” he said.
Rodriguez added that he is located in a quiet area of the mall, with the entrance located toward the back of the building, and summers are traditionally less busy than the rest of the season. Whether business will pick up later in the year, he could not say.
Across from his store sits Carlton Cards, managed by Dorothy Caillier. She said that the store had hoped for an increase in foot traffic when Target replaced the former Zellers location.
But the biggest increase in customer numbers happened during the renovations transforming Zellers into Target, when customers could not enter through the front entrance and were forced to come in through the back, she said. Since Target's opening, she said, customer flow returned to normal.
“I can't say one way or the other that Target has influenced a larger amount or a lesser amount. I wish I could say 'oh yes, I am so glad I am open,'” she said.
Struggling with lack of enthusiasm nationwide
Across Canada, Target stores were a draw for customers in the first few weeks of the stores opening. Since then, Target stores across Canada have been criticized for empty shelves – created by higher-than-expected demand – and higher prices than their U.S. counterparts.
Whether that also had an impact on visitation numbers at the local mall cannot be said, as neither the local mall manager nor a spokesperson for Target Canada could provide numbers on customer visits to the store and its surrounding businesses.
Lisa Gibson, spokesperson for Target Canada, said the overall guest feedback for the store – collected by store employees and taken from social media sites – was positive.
“Target is doing quite well in St. Albert and I would say that the things that are doing well are the things that differentiate us in the marketplace,” Gibson said. “Apparel and home continue to be really strong. I attribute a lot of that to the brands and design partnerships that we bring to the market.”
She added that grocery offerings at the local store received a positive response, as did the Starbucks inside the store. Responding to criticism in the media in recent weeks, Gibson said Target was still learning from its first months in the Canadian market.
Guests will see improvements in the inventory, she said. As for pricing, she said Target was competitive in the national marketplace, while some of the designer products were priced on par with American products.
“To clarify, it's still really early days for us. Our first store only opened just under five months ago,” she said. “A lot of what we do is based on not having a lot of historical data to work from here in Canada.”
Recovery after shortcomings
What really pushed up expectations, and consequently let to consumer disappointment was that Canadians expected the stores to look alike and be priced like the American stores they visited on holidays, said Kyle Murray, director of the school of retailing at the University of Alberta.
Target entered the market not understanding the Canadian consumer, he said, and consequently could not reach the level of satisfaction it hoped to achieve. The stores would now have to re-build their capacity and communication strategies. Based on demographics, Canadians could not expect prices to be on par with the U.S. though the store may bring down some of its prices, he said.
“Countries have retailers pricing products according to a cost of delivering in that country and what people are willing to pay,” he said. “It's hard to expect a company to deliver all across Canada what they deliver to the same number of people in say, California.”
John Smith's Rocky Mountain Chocolate outlet is located relatively close to the Target store in St. Albert Mall. Smith said the store was busiest in the months of May and June, shortly after the store opened, but foot traffic in the food court has since slowed down.
Whether that's attributed to Target or the summertime, he couldn't say. But when Zellers first came to the mall traffic picked up and he expects the same will happen once Target goes through an annual cycle and picks up on its shortcomings.
“Come fall and the winter, I think they are definitely going to attract some shoppers. And that will certainly help and I think it will help everyone in the mall at Christmas time.”
Murray expects the store will recover from its first months of criticism, mostly because people's expectations will drop. Nonetheless, he said businesses located close to a Target location will benefit from the store.
“If you compared the traffic that Target will drive, to the traffic that Zellers was able to drive you are much better off being beside a Target,” he said.