Target Continues Shaking Up the Aisles

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Target Continues Shaking Up the Aisles

By Patrycja Malinowska - 07/18/2016
Transparency in produce department the result of Food + Future coLab partnership

Target continues to make changes to its merchandising strategy through a test-and-learn process as it works to reinvent its stores.

This spring the retailer experimented with increased transparency in the produce department. At different locations over three weekends, the retailer offered a 50-cent discount on certain older produce, such as strawberries and raspberries. The item’s arrival times and corresponding prices were depicted on headers, letting shoppers have their pick between “more fresh” and more expensive or “less fresh” and cheaper.

Those locations also boasted futuristic “smart scales” positioned on carts and were outfitted with counter signs inviting shoppers to “learn more about your food” by placing it on the device. The touchscreen scale then asked shoppers to select what they would like to know more about the item from a broad menu of choices spanning such categories as freshness, production and storage chemicals, brand reputation, nutritional info, animal welfare, environmental impact and GMO (genetically modified organism) status.

Presumably the device would show details about how many calories are in a fruit or vegetable, if it is organic and how it was produced. However, the scales in the stores were only prototypes designed to see what information is most important to shoppers. The last screen displayed during interaction with the device thanked participants for helping Target “define the future of food,” and declared, “One day, this device will bring radical transparency to the grocery aisle. It’s just not quite ready yet.”

Clipboard-wielding employees followed up with shoppers who had interacted with the scales to survey them on additional data points such as why they chose to interact with the device, why they chose a particular item to scan, what else they would like to know about their food, and if they would use this type of device regularly. Participants also received a $5 store gift card.

The test is one of the first projects to come out of the Food + Future coLab, a multiyear partnership with Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab and design firm Ideo charged with brainstorming how to create food transparency and abundant access to good food.

“The progress so far has been incredible,” said Casey Carl, Target’s chief strategy and innovation officer, on a posting to the retailer’s “A Bullseye View” website. “We’re working at a pace we could only achieve by putting all the right people in one room – from retail experts to bioengineers – and then giving them the freedom, autonomy and resources to make things happen.”

Target also launched another project from coLab in Boston dubbed “Good & Gather.” That effort flips the traditional food label to emphasize ingredients by clearly displaying them on the front instead of in small print on the back while eschewing imagery, logos and health claims.

The retailer additionally is expanding its test of endcap coolers to the baby food aisle in 65 stores in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Dallas through a partnership with new brand Once Upon a Farm. This effort merchandises refrigerated, high-pressure processed baby food outside of the traditional refrigerated section as the retailer tests demand.

Target is also implementing chain-wide changes as tests come to fruition. This spring the retailer reset the center-store grocery aisles, changing assortment, presentation and category adjacencies.

“Specifically, we’ve updated assortment and segmentation to align with local demographics and showcase wellness,” chief executive officer Brian Cornell said during the retailer’s first-quarter financials call. “In total, we added about 1,000 new items with this reset, including 55 new better-for-you brands across 25 categories, and we’ve incorporated our Simply Balanced [private label] in an additional 30 categories. This represents an important step in the reinvention of our grocery business. Following the reset we received very positive [shopper] feedback, and the subsequent results have been better than expected.”

Target simultaneously is looking beyond the grocery department to differentiate other areas of the store. After rolling out significant updates in the home, apparel and baby departments, the retailer now is testing a connected-home merchandising concept in the entertainment/electronics department at one store in Minnetonka, Minnesota.

Dubbed “Connected Living,” the pilot encompasses animated “discovery tables” and LED screens to tell stories that illustrate a product’s usefulness and ability to work with other devices. The tables are organized into six sections – family fitness, connected kitchen, virtual guardians (security devices), connected nursery, rest and relaxation (sleep monitors), and item trackers and smart buttons – and stores staff a dedicated employee. It showcases products such as the FitBit wearable, WeMo switch, Ring wireless video doorbell, Hello Sense sleep monitor and Tile smart button.

Target designed the merchandising solution around lessons learned from its San Francisco Open House, a physical “house” space outfitted with LED screens that the retailer opened last summer to understand how to display and educate shoppers on connected home products.