Target’s mobile growing pains a cautionary tale for marketers

By Michael Barris

June 1, 2015

Target on SnapChat.

Target has earned a reputation as a mobile leader by aggressively pivoting from a traditional bricks-and-mortar retailer to a mobile-centered operation, but the company may have overextended itself in the race to have a presence across multiple platforms, with the user experience suffering in some cases as a result, according to a Mobile Marketer analysis.

Despite the department store chain’s focus on testing, learning and working hand-in-hand with consumers in its digital transformation, its current ratings on app stores reflect dissatisfaction with the user experience, an undesirable development in a hyper-competitive marketplace. The issues may point to Target’s need to hire a bigger and better UX team.

“Target has built up an arsenal of mobile touch points that demonstrate the brand’s attentiveness to mobile,” said Shuli Lowy, marketing director for mobile with Ping Mobile. “However, in the brand’s journey to be on every platform, it has sacrificed the quality of its digital experience.

“Their primary app has a pitiable two-star rating in the Apple app store,” she said. “In the comments, consumers describe the app as buggy, inaccurate, and useless.

“In the Google play store the app is resonating better with consumers and has a four-star rating,” she said. “However, the ratings have been getting worse recently.”

“Consumers have so many options of places to buy their products,” she said. “If Target doesn’t start taking their mobile experience seriously, they will lose market share. It’s that simple.”

Ambitious agenda

Eddie Baeb, a spokesman for Target, Minneapolis, MN, said the company would not comment on the claims.

“We’ve got an ambitious mobile agenda, and we’re constantly working to enhance and upgrade our mobile platforms,” he said. “We’re actively adding talent to our digital teams as we are committed to providing guests a great mobile experience and achieving industry-leading sales growth in digital channels.”

Offering in-app purchases via Apple Pay.

Target is one of many marketers racing to get out in front of the public’s migration to mobile. While being a leader positions a company advantageously, providing a good user experience is an essential part of the transition.

The chain’s recently overhauled main app, which garnered more than 27,000 one-star ratings between the Apple App Store and Google Play, according to Ms. Lowy, remains at the forefront of its embrace of the consumer shift to mobile.

“Target has long focused on being a leader in mobile — which we consider the front door to our brand,” Mr. Baeb said. “Mobile helps Target deliver the on-demand, anywhere-anytime shopping experience that today’s guests expect.”

Target’s mobile highlights include creating a streamlined mobile checkout experience and integrating user-generated content from Instagram and trending product information from Pinterest into its mobile platforms.

It also was one of the first retailers to offer online purchases in its app using Apple Pay.

Target’s Cartwheel deals app, launched in spring 2013, has already generated $1 billion in promotional sales, according to Mr. Baeb. Nearly 15 million Target guests have downloaded the Cartwheel app and saved more than $200 million on their Target purchases, he said.

In an example of its mobile prowess, Target collaborated with influencer band Imagine Dragon to create a bespoke live music performance where teaser snippets aired during the Grammy Awards’ TV commercial breaks.

Full video content for the #makemusic campaign was available on Snapchat’s ‘Discover’ platform for 24 hours.

“This mobile-first creative, delivered contextually relevant content via mainstream TV, gaining massive reach,” said Melissa Greenberg, general manager of Fetch New York.

“The [30-second teaser] had a clear call to action to extend the conversation on Snapchat, which increased its brand exposure and gained digital brownie points with the millennials.”

Data analysis

Target’s best opportunity lies in its ability to use data analysis to enhance the mobile consumer’s experience.

Cartwheel deals app.

“Furthermore, with the recent acquisition of mobile tech and location-based analytics company, Powered Analytics, there lies a fantastic opportunities to personalize the mobile shopping experience even further and push strategically relevant and contextual notifications and coupons to drive both footfall and digital sales,” Ms. Greenberg said.

Final Take

Michael Barris is staff reporter with Mobile Marketer, New York

Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily, New York.

Originally published at