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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