Target prepping stores with 'no shopping cart, no bag'

Target has a vision of a new kind of physical store to compete with online rivals, one that attempts to sidestep the drudgery of shopping by wiping out the need for customers to lug around their purchases through the store's aisles.

target checkout lines
Credit: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

When Target on Wednesday (Dec. 9) opened its Target Wonderland in New York City, it described the pop-up as a "16,000-square-foot part-store, part-holiday playground." And although that's a fair description, it was actually a clever retail IT RFID trial. Target corporate has a vision of a new kind of physical store to compete with online rivals, one that attempts to sidestep the drudgery of shopping by wiping out the need for customers to lug around their purchases through the store's aisles.

It's called Target Wonderland, and the way it works is simple: Shoppers are issued RFID-tag lanyards when they arrive and they scan those tags next to any products they want to purchase. The shoppers don't take possession of those products until checkout. (By the way, anyone reading the description of this process in Target's statement would likely be confused, as it strongly implies that the lanyards possess RFID scanners instead of RFID tags. Target had crafted the reference for consumers and thought it was easier to phrase that way.)

It can feel like a chore for shoppers to have to carry their purchases around a store, and it also limits how much they can buy. Meanwhile, shoppers' Amazon virtual shopping carts never overflow. "There's no shopping cart, no bag, with guests picking up everything at the end," said Target spokesperson Jenna Reck. "This is a more efficient way for Target as a retailer" as shoppers are relieved of that manual labor. "We'd be shifting some of that to the back room instead."

The real issue is whether this approach will generate enough new sales (both from existing shoppers buying more stuff and new shoppers lured in by the easier shopping method) to top the higher labor costs.

"RFID is something that we can use in a different way," Reck said. "We have a lot of information about the ways that our guests shop today. What we’re testing here is what we can do that is different."

In the popup store, items are eventually given to the shoppers by an associate wearing Santa sleeves and gloves handing them to the shopper through a fireplace. Nice bit of holiday theatrics.

As far as IT trials go, this one is not especially duplicative of real-world Target environments. The chain expects as many as 15,000 shoppers to visit this pop-up, at 10th Avenue and 15th Street, but there are "only 16 products that are available for purchase in the space," Reck said. Contrast that with real-world Target stores, which house no fewer than 15,000 SKUs and as many as 105,000 SKUs, she said.

Efficiently managing 16 products doesn't necessarily reveal much about whether the same can be done for 105,000 products. But the idea being tested here is very encouraging. It's Target truly trying to remove as many of the negative aspects of in-store shopping while maximizing the better parts of the experience.

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