It is stupid hot in San Diego county right now and half the county is literally on fire. So hot that they closed all the schools. That means me and my daughter are bored at home. Too hot to go outside, tired of being inside we did the logical thing: We went to Target because its cold inside. We ended up spending almost two hours there. (don’t judge me, you’ve done it too)
— Mashable (@mashable) May 15, 2014
While wandering the aisles I noticed something that I have noticed before but somehow it stood out more this time. I tend to pay attention to certain prices of key, essential items like Craft Beer, green grapes, printer paper and magic cards. Yes my items are odd and random. I don’t shop that often at big box stores like Target. I don’t like them much. I avoid shopping at Wal-Mart with all my might and have only bought things there twice ever. Target isn’t much better but somehow it seems a bit better.
One thing I notice almost every time I go to Target is that the prices seem low but really aren’t for most of their items. They have built their brand on the idea of low prices (and the color red). But when you actually compare the prices to other places the prices tend to be higher on most things. One notable exception is kids clothes which are so uncomfortably cheap and low-priced that it’s scary. FAR cheaper than even a thrift store. That’s got to be some sort of black hole anomaly.
Without going into my usual long-winded diatribe about why you should support smaller, local merchants and buy fewer but higher quality goods I will still attempt to talk about pricing dichotomies.
When consumers think about Target they think of low prices, big selection and massive credit card data breaches. The idea is that because Target is so big that they can somehow bypass the normal rules of the physical universe and get the same exact crap at miraculously lower prices. Hope springs eternal even as madness takes hold. I asked a lot of people about prices at Target and they all told me that Target had “very low” to “pretty good prices.” This was across the board on all items. Unless you actually check the prices.
Here is what I found:
For the four items I happen to know the prices of by heart Target was between 5-15% HIGHER on those items. These were brand name items in the same size and format. I am sure that they have many low prices on many items. I am just as sure that a sizable percentage of their items cost more than at other non price leading stores. For instance every day Karl Strauss Tower 10 IPA Craft beer siz pack is $8.99 at my local Vons. At Target it is $9.99 to $10.49. Magic cards at all the magic stores I have been to are $2.99 for a booster pack and at Target they are $3.49. The point is NOT that their prices are higher.
The point is the dichotomy that exists between the reality of the experience and the brand promise.
And that it does not seem to affect their customer’s perception or loyalty. That is either wonderful or horrific depending on your perspective.
Our lives are littered with examples of this type of duplicitous divergence. Most of the time when there is a serious gap between the brand promise and the brand experience that customers fall into, it is the brand that gets hurt. But sometimes, either the gap is too small to have a deleterious effect on enough customers to make an impact or the brand is literally banking on the fact that after a certain brand size most customers no longer act in their own best interests.
They pursue convenience over quality. Simplicity over solution. Style over substance. Bad over good.
I have spent my whole life fighting this idea and try as hard as I can to live by my principles. Am I being a localist and a hipster or nailing it on the head?