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Have you heard the one about the shopper who walks into Target to buy a pack of batteries and some milk? You know the punchline: It involves a $100 receipt.
Overspending at Target and the joys of shopping at the store have become such universally relatable experiences, we’ve collectively come up with celebratory jokes and memes and GIFs, which, naturally, have seeped into merchandising that allows us to show off our love of the store.
Take for instance this coffee mug on Amazon:
And there’s this very relatable GIF about the joy Target sparks:
And, yes, our very own round-up of signs you’re obsessed with Target.
But, why Target? Why not Walmart or Best Buy or some other chain store? Why do our hearts beat Target red? I mean, one couple loved the store so much they very literally walked down the aisles there for their wedding photos!
And, how come we go in for batteries and come out with a new decor scheme for our living room?
We asked some business experts to explain why we are so infatuated with Target. Here’s what they have to say.
1. A Different Approach To Discounts
Target has gradually built a reputation of being both contemporary and competitively priced, explains Aleksandra Kovacheva, assistant professor of marketing at the University at Albany’s Massry Center for Business.
“This positioning strategy is quite different from the low-price strategies adopted by most mass merchandisers and discounters,” Kovacheva explains. For example, Walmart’s strategy is “everyday low prices” and Costco’s is “quality goods and services at the lowest possible prices.”
But, Kovacheva adds marketing research shows that deal-seeking customers tend to be less loyal. There’s no locking a deal hunter down if they spot a better bargain! So those strategies focused only on low prices can thin out profit margins and also make it harder to build a loyal customer base, she says.
“Instead of focusing entirely on price, Target’s online and brick-and-mortar stores highlight the modern, up-to-date, chic products developed in collaboration with trending fashion and interior designers,” Kovacheva says.
Plus, Kovacheva adds, Target’s private labels are perceived as high-quality products comparable to well-known name brands.
2. Target Makes Us Feel Fancy
Most people want a deal but don’t want to feel cheap, explains digital marketer Brian Carter. Target gets us and has a way of making shoppers feel more upscale.
“The joke French pronunciation, ‘Tar-jhay,’ is for some a light-hearted affirmation that Target is more upscale than Walmart,” Carter says.
As for Walmart? Well, it gets the “People of Walmart” website. Jokes aside, that site often pokes fun at obesity and poverty. According to Carter, it’s telling of how people perceive Walmart’s brand.
3. Target Is Full Of Stuff That’s Not On Your Shopping List
Target carries a wide range of items, from electronics to groceries to beauty products. Kovacheva says this contributes to Target’s image as a “one-stop-discovery shop,” a place where shoppers can find new products, good deals and try products before making purchases.
“This makes shoppers more likely to overspend as they rely on the store to help them uncover their consumption needs as they walk the aisles,” she says.
4. The Store Is Well-Organized
Research in consumer behavior shows that when shoppers feel fluency (ease, simplicity and effortlessness), it leads to positive emotions, Kovacheva says.
So those bright lights, sparkling white floors, pops of red and well-organized aisles create an energetic, breezy mood that makes shopping feel enjoyable. Plus, Target’s aisles remain well-stocked, the signs are clear and the stores are clean. Ah, so zen.
5. We Walk The Aisles
Studies show we spend more money than we plan in supermarkets in general, not just Target, explains Vassilis Dalakas, professor of marketing at Cal State University San Marcos.
“One big reason is that we tend to go through all or most aisles and are exposed to promotions or sales for items that were not originally on our list,” Dalakas says. “Also, we may walk by a product and realize that we actually meant to buy it, even though we forgot to include it in our list.”
When a consumer is truly determined to buy only what he or she plans, they can do just that by going straight to the aisle (do not pass go, do not collect items in the dollar bin!) and then straight to checkout.
“But, most shoppers would think ‘Where’s the fun in that?’” Dalakas says.
And that, friends, is how you end up with a bow tie for your dog and the latest crazy flavor of Oreos (yup, state fair Oreos are a thing) and are all of a sudden planning a Pinterest-worthy backyard barbecue because of the new checkered tableware you picked up.
6. Target Knows How To Collaborate
Remember that time when Target’s collaboration with luxe designer Missoni almost broke the Internet? Over the years, Target has done some memorable collaborations with designers and brands, like Alexander McQueen, Jean Paul Gaultier, Jason Wu, Lilly Pulitzer and BaubleBar.
Simply put, Target has dedicated fans because of its products and the store excels at putting together a unique product selection that’s on trend and well-assorted, says Sonia Parekh, a retail consultant with two decades of experience (*and a Target-shopping mom).
“This is especially true in the home and apparel categories where they have created brands with popular celebrities or brought in one-time-only deliveries from well known designers,” she says. “You may be on the way to buy Band-aids, but if you walk by a beautiful selection of home decor, it’s hard not to stop.”
Other mass merchants have not been able to replicate this strategy, even though they’ve tried, Parekh says.
“It seems like an easy thing to do, but it requires top design and merchandising talent — which is not easy to find, and even harder to hire,” she adds.
7. Target Confuses Our Perception Of Dollar Amounts
Our brains are wired to make decisions in two different ways, according to Matthew Johnson, a professor at Hult International Business School in San Francisco, whose research is focused on behavioral economics and shopping behavior.
System-1 decisions are simple and reactionary. You’re hungry, you eat a snack. System-2 decisions are more planned out and controlled — perhaps you do research and budget before making a big electronics purchase or booking that annual vacation, explains Johnson, the co-author of an upcoming book “Allure: The Neuroscience of Consumerism.”
Pro tip: Your brain is more likely to be in System-1, snap-decision making mode when you’re hungry and when you’ve got a lot on the brain (which, personally, is a permanent state of being). He points out that places like Target can skew our perceptions of value.
“Shopping experiences in large retailers like Target can easily skew our perception of value, leading us in particular to buy more smaller items than usual,” Johnson says. “Without any context, $10 seems like a reasonable amount of money. But $10 when you have $400 worth of stuff in the cart? It feels, psychologically, like much less money by comparison.”
Ah-ha, that’s how the pomelo coconut-scented candle snuck its way into the cart.
We’ll leave you with one last relatable Target joke, courtesy of Twitter user @mryanjones.
4 yr old came to gymnastics today and said "sorry i'm late my mom was having fun at target" and i just know that one day i will be that mom
— mac sitz (@mryanjones) October 19, 2017