Target Is Barely Retailing the iPad

October 5, 2010

When Target Corp. announced last month that it would begin to “carry” the iPad at its 1,743 stores on October 3rd, it was being precise. Visits to several Target stores reveal that while a special display has been set up for iPads, the stores are neither displaying or selling the tablet-style computers, which are locked behind glass doors on the bottom shelves of an ordinary aisle. The lack of display and absence of any salesperson requires that customers to expend extraordinary energy to obtain information about the device, let alone to purchase it, a practice that goes against Steve Jobs’ original reasons for starting the company’s retail initiative. The location and presentation is similar to how other mass-market retailers display Apple products, including how Wal-Mart markets iPhones.

Target’s press release on September 24th announcing the iPad deal with Apple sounded hopeful. “Target is very excited to offer the revolutionary iPad to our guests nationwide,” said Mark Schindele, senior vice president of merchandising. “We are committed to providing our guests with the best products,” he added.

But despite creating an iPad-specific area adjacent to the stores’ electronics POS counter, Target’s commitment to selling the iPad is in contradiction to Apple’s own reasons for creating their retail chain of stores.

In 2004 Jobs explained why Apple entered retailing to Walt Mossberg at the All Things Digital Conference. He said competitors’ products are all the same, so it takes little work to sell them at the big-box retailers. “You just have to be able to point to the one where your company gets a point more of gross margin that week. That’s it,” Jobs said.

In contrast, Jobs said Apple products have a dozen major break-throughs a year. “We can advertise three or four of them, or otherwise if we do more than that the consumer thinks we’re a little nuts. And so the rest of them have to be delivered at the point of sale.” But, talking about retailers like CompUSA at the time, “The competence level is getting less at the point of sale. Even if you train them, they turn over every 120 days, so it’s impossible to get knowledge at the point of sale.”

Job recalled the company’s retail discussions, saying, “And we thought, people are going to need to know more about this stuff. It’s going to get more complicated as we’ve got these amazing peripherals like digital camcorders and digital cameras that have to connect and make it all work. And we wanted to make the best buying experience in the world. And so, that’s what we’ve done.”

How Target Does It

Target’s version of “carrying” the iPad is not the “best buying experience in the world.”

The iPad area is usually deep within the store, adjacent to the electronics point-of-sale counter. The end of a short aisle (endcap) is reserved for iPad accessories, along with about four feet of adjacent shelving along the aisle.

The endcap features a tall iPad graphic that attracts attention, but leads only to a low display of iPad accessories on hooks. Even worse, the products are locked to the hooks so potential buyers cannot easily examine a camera connection kit, for example, and must call for a salesperson to make their purchase.

Around the corner, the iPad display is similarly unhelpful. A bold, eye-level graphic features an Apple logo and the word “iPad,” along with a large photo shows six iPads displaying various apps. What’s missing is an actual iPad. Below the graphic is a low cabinet with locked glass doors, and inside are boxed iPads with their prices displayed. The top of the cabinet is conspicuously empty of any iPads for customer handling, as they are at all Apple stores.

To the right of the iPad area is the iPod display, which also has Apple products behind locked cabinets.

Monitoring the iPad area for 30 minutes on a mid-Sunday afternoon, not a single customer approached the area to examine the displays or to ask a salesperson for assistance with the iPads. During the same hour, a nearby Best Buy store has several customers approaching its live display of iPads.

A view along the main aisle of the electronics section of a typical store, showing the visibility of the iPad display as the customer approaches.

The iPad section is adjacent to the main camera and camcorder display, and POS position, and has high visibility.

The displays are graphic and eye-catching and the area is orderly.

A closer view reveals that accessories (left) are mounted on locked hooks, that there are no iPads on live display, and even boxed iPads are behind locked glass doors.

Despite being adjacent to the POS position, there are no staff available to explain the iPad or retrieve one for purchase. All the people in the photo are customers. None seemed interested in iPads.

The iPod area is similar to the iPad display—no live display and locked stock.

The iPad accessories are locked to the hook, which itself is locked to the display.

The top of the display is conspicuously empty of any products or promotional material. The iPads are locked inside Target's standard and out-of-style locked glass cabinet.

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Ryan October 5, 2010 at 1624

I was at a Target in the Pittsburgh area, and there is even less of a presence here. No iPad banners or graphics to be found, not even many units in the display case (less than ten), just the pricetags on the outside. It was right next to Kindle, too, and aisles apart from the other iPod display. I personally didn’t see iPads until I looked twice through the aisle, because I saw accessories but no big display.

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Geoffrey October 5, 2010 at 1931

You guys its not an Apple store, or even a dedicated electronis retailer. Why should they need live display models and dedicated staff to cater to customers. Target has always either had locked display cases or plastic mockups of many of their electronics, (ie cell phones, netbooks, …) And many of their wii, playstation and xbox accessories are on locked display hooks, because these are expensive items that are often stolen. If you need help you find a target employee or just hit one of their call buttons. As compared to their other electronic displays the apple one is more eye catching and larger, so it would attarct attention.

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Joseph October 5, 2010 at 2118

It’s not Target Brands Inc, rather the Target Corporation? I think so at least.

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Joseph October 5, 2010 at 2120

When I worked at Target in college, the iPod headphones were the most stolen item in the store.

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Ian October 6, 2010 at 0325

Not sure what the problem is here.
It is store policy I guess to protect the items from being stolen, clearly that is an issue for them, hence the locked up devices. Apple don’t have the same policy and we know things get stolen, maybe Apple can afford the losses a little more than Target.

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mac_kid October 6, 2010 at 0708

Maybe they should have someone in the electronics section at all times to assist but they should at least have the iPads on display where ppl can hold them and touch them and have the sales person right their so if someone wants an accessory they can get it all while watching and maintaining the area it cant cost that much if the person is making 7.25 an hr and if they sell just one iPad in the day i think they would be doing pretty good lol

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afruit October 6, 2010 at 0736

The demographic of people that shop at Target, is different then the demographic that shops at Apple Stores. Almost certainly, Apple Store customers are much less likely to steal something then a customer of Target. Hence, they need to take precautions for behavior that Apple doesn’t need to worry about.

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nonsense October 14, 2010 at 0630

Nonsense – thieves go wherever it’s easiest to steal the goods from. In this case an Apple Store poses a much easier threat.

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steffenjobbs October 6, 2010 at 0754

I don’t think it’s such a bad way to offer the iPad at a retail chain. If I wanted to avoid the crowds at an Apple store, I’d just as soon run into Target and purchase an iPad. Calling over a salesperson isn’t very difficult at all. If I was a person that didn’t know much about the iPad, then I would likely head down to the Apple store and get all the help I needed. Maybe Apple and Target will set up some people that are trained to sell iPads as it gets closer to the holidays. I think that Target is more or less a way to get iPads when the main stores run out during the mad rush of the holidays. There’s still an advantage for Apple to have a presence at Target. Apple should hire some part-timers to handle all Apple sales at retail chains.
Whatever. This is not a big deal.

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joop October 6, 2010 at 0810

Anyone who would think that Target could provide the same selling environment as Apple doesn’t know much about retail. The move to carry the iPads, in my opinion, is simply to say, “Hey, look, we’ve got ‘em too! C’mon in!”. I don’t think their strategy actually involves SELLING iPads. Consider the price points. First, Target is a discount retailer, these products are listed at FULL RETAIL. Second, a 64GB 3G unit, with a couple accessories is going to come out to about $1,000 after taxes. Hhhmmm…. And as for keeping them under lock and key? SMART! The packaging is small, and Apple products, even their accessories, are uber-easy to fence for a decent buck. I wouldn’t be surprised if store key holders were the only ones with access to the iPads themselves.

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Ryan October 6, 2010 at 0923

Target does big business with gift cards (I get like four a year, myself), so having the iPad in a more stores, and connected to things like gift cards is a good step (see also: Wal-Mart).

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Digital Czar October 6, 2010 at 1001

To be fair, lots of other electronics are equally just “one the shelves” and sometimes under lock and key with no way to look at, play with, experience, or have a “somewhat knowledgeable” sales droid to ask questions about said item. It’s more the face of retailing when the customer wants, no demands, low prices. Customer service becomes “Customer Disservice” and there are no bodies to help customers in these kind of stores.
BTW, why do you think customer service is generally pretty good and well above average in Apple Stores? For one, the sales folks are salaried, not on commission to enhance the “buying experience” and Apple doesn’t discount.

The moral is, if you need the help and information, do the homework and go to an Apple store or a retailer with real help.

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bgibson October 6, 2010 at 1012

Uh, it seems pretty elementary–there’s a severe lack of human presence in the electronics departments in these places hence the locked merchandise. Apple stores are smaller and have plenty of employee presence.

Unrelated: Good luck finding help, although I think Best Buy takes the cake when it comes to worst places to get help…maybe installing a customer service button like at Lowe’s where you can hit the button every minutes you aren’t being helped?

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NotTellinYou October 6, 2010 at 1021

Target is simply another channel of distribution nothing more. It’s incremental revenue to Apple where someone is making a considered purchase and simply needs to buy it. No one is going to come into Target or Walmart, who knew nothing of the iPad, and look to get information or sales assistance. They’re going to buy it at the lowest price or closest store once they’ve decided to buy. You can’t compare this to the days when Apple had a public perception issue and a retail experience, across the board, that didn’t do anyrthing to change that.

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Sid Farcus October 6, 2010 at 1030

I’m coming to believe that Target has included iPads in its inventory as an “aura-building” attraction that can be advertised rather than an item that can be aggressively marketed to their core base of customers. Selling iPads is no risk for them. As the holiday season completes, the iPads will sell out, but most likely to people who already know about and want the iPad but are having a difficult time finding them elsewhere. Target can’t lose: they gain a “hipper” aura by carrying them and will eventually sell out of them without having to provide any extra effort. Apple knows this but has made the calculated decision that placing iPads in American retail box stores provides the ability to purchase to customers who can’t reach an Apple store.

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Dan October 6, 2010 at 1049

It looks like about 35 iPad’s per store * 1,700 stores = about 60,000 iPads. Not a bad start.

Plus, folks that aren’t normally in the know on such things will be made aware of them. It would be goodness if the kid at the counter can show it to them and tell them about iTunes. But then a lot of folks have iTunes accounts for their iPod.

Bottom line is that every little bit helps and this is looking like a high volume product and this will help in that direction.

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Vaxhacker October 6, 2010 at 1134

This week’s Target circular features the iPad by itself on the front cover.

They took quite a while to develop dedicated staff to sell mobile phones. The same will probably be true for iPads, if they every do.

If *I* was shopping for an iPad at Target, I would *expect* it to be in the Electronics department. Unfortunately, for every store I’ve visited, it is in a different part of the store. Heck *every* department is shuffled around the store. Where you *you* want it – in front of every register? :)

Oh, and the “hipper” aura effort can be seen in other parts of Target stores, too. Michael Graves cookware is an example, of which I own one of their teapots. A little more expensive, but with a touch of style.

Oh, and a final note for everybody – check different Target stores and find one to your liking. The staff varies widely, seeming to be hired on a particular theme at each store. Some of the long time Electronics staff *do* know some of their products, just no where near an Apple Store staffer’s knowledge.

I believe you are not a regular Target shopper.

Disclaimer: I play around with Target stock, but check with your own homeys on whether you should play it yourself.

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lrd October 6, 2010 at 1505

Target is no different than any other retailer: cutting workers to the bone. One person where there us to be three or four.

At least they’re keep clean and organized.

At least Apple will make more from selling iPADs at Target than Google makes from Android.
Hey , I venture to say Apple’s making more $ from selling Apple branded iPAD cases than Google’s making from Android!

If I were Steve Jobs, I showed that stat at next the keynote in January- that will put Google’s in place.

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Jay October 6, 2010 at 1619

“best buying experience in the world.”

What a joke that statement is. The local Apple Store here is such a pain in the a$$ I just can’t stand shopping there. One must practically lay out on the floor and make a scene before an Apple employee will recognize them as they would rather stand around talking among themselves. There are no actual cash registers to bring merchandise to if you are lucky enough to find what you are looking for youself, and when or if you DO get lucky enough to actually make a purchase they don’t want to give you a receipt, they instead want to email it to you.

I hardly consider this to be the best buying experience in the world, and actually avoid this store at all cost.

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NotTellinYou October 6, 2010 at 1741

Why do you want a paper receipt to loose when you can have an email copy ready to print as and if needed even a year later. Never mind simply loosing it the thermal paper receipts like you get at Best Buy fade over the course of a few months while the email printed is fresh forever. I just looked at my AT&T receipt for my iPhone 4 and it’s already showing it’s age just sitting inside the box.

I work in the IS group for a VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY (not enough VERY’s) retailer and we are working to provide email receipts because people see the value and are asking us for it.

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Susan October 8, 2010 at 0040

If you need assistance, why not ask an employee for help? Apple employees are humans. They can’t suddenly divine that you need assistance. It’s also entirely possible that they’re doing a training exercise. I’ve often interrupted ‘coaching on the floor’ because I had a question about something, and I only realized they were engaged in coaching after I walked up and interrupted them. It’s the nature of retail; there isn’t a lot of time or space to do training in the back, so it’s done on the floor.

I love shopping in my local Apple store. Everyone is so friendly, but I don’t feel like I’m pestered by the salespeople every five minutes asking if I need help. I once left a Best Buy after every employee in the store–not an exaggeration–asked me if I needed help, including the entire camera/cell phone department, all three of whom were standing within four feet of one another when they each individually asked me if I needed help.

I’ve also found that Apple employees have no problem with you forming an ad hoc queue behind other customers if they’re ringing someone else out for a purchase.

And hey, if you REALLY hate the experience, why not tell Apple about it? I think the bottom of your receipt has an invitation for you to fill out a survey or something. I’ve always had positive experiences, but a friend who had a tough time at the Genius Bar got contacted by the manager. She was pretty pleased with how they handled her feedback.

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Mark October 8, 2010 at 0926

Totally agree regarding the Apple store. It’s one of the most difficult buying experiences at ANY store, save Walmart, where it is truly impossible to figure out if they even have something, let alone have someone get it for you. It’s awesome for TRYING PRODUCTS OUT but not for actually buying them.

The Apple Stores are full of people who come in with questions like, “How do I charge my Ipod? I forgot.” or… “I need you to set up the internet and Apple base station… in my home.” Stuff that is so ridiculous, it’s no wonder Apple has a reputation for non-tech savvy customers. And they HAVE to serve these people because honestly, they DO make up a huge sector of their core customer base. That iPhone vs. Android animated thing on youtube is DEAD ON when it comes to Apple customers during that part when the character who wants to buy an iphone starts in with all the things she needs the employee to do. “I need you (i.e. – demand) that you set up my bluetooth and hard -drives, and on and on and on…”

I don’t blame apple, I blame their stupid customers who take up all of an associate’s time… let’s face it, it’s mostly middle to upper class entitled folks who have a passive-aggressive manner coming in demanding stuff be done for them and they get their kicks doing it. Meanwhile, if you’re somebody who wants to just BUY something, it’s a total pain-in-the-butt. It’s almost impossible to just get a sale’s associate’s attention from one of these ‘black hole’ customers who suck up all the energy in the store with a problem they could have googled the solution to and solved it AT HOME.

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Dan October 7, 2010 at 0951

While the experience isn’t good, it’s target. Just another retailer. And they treat the iPad just like any other product.

Yall are missing an important fact: people don’t go to target to figure out if they want to buy an iPad, they go there because they’ve already decided and target is the closest place to get it. Same with best buy. That’s why none of these stores had access to iPad when it was launched, apple knew they would half-ass it. Now that pretty much everyone knows what an iPad is, I don’t see why this is a problem.

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TargetEmployee October 8, 2010 at 0127

Our model at Target is “come to buy soap, leave with a tv”. It’s about impulse buys. Want an Apple Store experience? Go there…

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res08hao October 10, 2010 at 0701

This is the kind of setup for people in Cabbageville. Everyone else goes to an Applestore.

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Steven October 13, 2010 at 1016

okay this is how it works…
the reason the merchandised is locked is because we are a store that get a lot of traffic we don’t just sell ipads,ipods…all that good stuff…we sell a tons of merchandise from shampoo to food to movies.
..its kinda unfair to compare a bix box store to a small store that only specialized in their owned brand products. . like the “target employee ” said the model is “come to buy soap,leave with a tv” thats what the company want to bank on.they want our guest to come shop for groceries and pick up their ipad..

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sevyn October 25, 2010 at 0846

I don’t know why some have such problems shopping in an actual Apple store. I’ve always had a great experience. Even when browsing employees come up to me and offer tips and help. While in line, if it is more than 3 people someone, proactively comes up to me and checks me out on a “portable” register.
I wish more stores were like Apple!
poor Target, love them, but buying electronics there is hard, it’s a deserted wasteland with maybe one employee who looks lost if you ask them what is the tax on an item.

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