Minneapolis Target store’s new checkout system ‘test’ raises customer hackles — and questions

The Target store test includes an overhead sign that directs customers to cashiers.
Photo by Marisa Helms
The Target store test includes an overhead sign that directs customers to cashiers.

Is Target experimenting on us?

Some customers who frequent a Minneapolis “test” store think so, and they aren’t happy about it.

But Target officials say the test is driven by a desire to create a “superior shopping experience for guests.” And at least one marketing professor says the only thing unusual about the experiment is that it’s not happening in every retail store across the country.

Suddenly last June, customers at the Target at Lake and Hiawatha in Minneapolis were faced with a jarringly different checkout system.

The new prototype the company is testing could be described as a hybrid of the experience one has at airport security checks or while waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

A new experience
Here’s what customers are encountering:

You’re ready to check out. You’ve got a box of diapers, a dress, toothpaste and bananas. Rather than choosing your lane or cashier, you are funneled into one line, like at airport security. The queue snakes one, two, three turns around big product displays filled with gum, candy, magazines and the like. You finally make it to the front of the line.

Once there, you wait until a hanging flat screen posts — and speaks — a number for the next available cashier. Then, you pull ahead, into a narrow aisle that is created by two rows of checkout stations lined up on the left and on the right.

It’s a little disorienting at first, but just like a guinea pig in a maze, you figure it out, step by step.

Once you’ve arrived at your assigned checkout counter, you’ll notice there are no conveyor belts. Instead, the platform appears to be less than half the size of the typical conveyor space. So, you must place your items on the platform one or two at time, depending on size. If the items are too large, like a big box of diapers, once it’s scanned, you’ll immediately have to put it back in the cart to make room for the other items. The clerk bags the scanned items, and once that bag is full, you need to put it back in your cart to start another bag because there’s no room on the platform. And so on …

Target spokesperson Antoine LaFromboise says the test will be in place through the Christmas shopping season. He confirmed the experiment is being conducted only at the Lake Street store, which was chosen because “it’s the closest Target store to Target headquarters that has a similar size, layout and transaction size of the type of stores that benefit from an organized queue.”

He said the test is “designed to find out what the overall feedback would be, and what makes sense for our team members and our guests.”

Customer complaints
But, so far, several customers I spoke with — in the checkout line or afterward — challenge the wisdom behind the experiment.

“It’s not at all customer-friendly,” said customer Shirley Nelson on a recent trip to the test store. “I object to having to line up and wend my way around the aisles filled with more stuff. It’s an offensive marketing tool.”

Nelson, a Minneapolis resident and urban professional, said she used to do 90 percent of her Target shopping there, and wouldn’t have come back had she remembered how much she disliked the experience. She said she had made her distaste for the new system clear to store managers several times.

Despite Target’s assertion that the quest for a “superior shopping experience” is driving the experiment, Nelson and others are puzzled why it’s taking place at a location that serves a predominantly urban, minority and immigrant clientele.

Nelson wonders if customers at the Lake Street store would feel empowered enough to complain, adding that Target would “never get away with this in Edina.”

She doesn’t think the system will work, either: “You can only fit one or two items on the counter, that’s it.  This is going to cause colossal delays at Christmas time.”

“I question why anybody would put up with this,” she said. “I’m not going to.” And with that, Nelson was out the door, vowing not to return as long as the checkout system remains.

An unidentified Target employee overhearing Nelson offered that she has heard many complaints from customers about the new system. And yes, she was passing those complaints on to her manager.

Target’s LaFromboise said in a phone interview and follow-up email that because the experiment is ongoing, he could not comment on specific feedback the company has received so far.

“Target’s goal is to continually improve our guest experience,” he said. “We regret any inconvenience experienced while we test this new system.”

When asked what information or efficiencies Target is trying to capture by doing this test, LaFromboise hinted at speedier checkouts.

“We know fast checkout is important to our guests, so we’re looking at that … but also the whole experience across the board.”

OK, but this checkout system doesn’t seem fast. They’ve even taken away the Express lane for 10 or fewer items.

Prof sees advantages of new system
University of Minnesota marketing professor George John offered some insight into what might be going on here.

“The change — if it’s strict by-the-books — is an obvious one to make,” said John in a phone interview after the new system was described to him.

John said the research is clear that the funnel-type checkout Target is testing is more efficient than the usual system that leaves it up to a customer to choose a lane.

John explained that the setup, like the airport-style queue, “squeezes down the variability” of time waiting in line. Though the average wait time could be the same as with the usual checkout process, the single-lane, funnel-style infrastructure means customers have a variable wait time of, say, five to seven minutes, instead of five to 15 minutes, for example, if they had chosen their own checkout line.

“It matters” to customers and to Target’s bottom line, he said.

By reducing the variance at checkout, Target is appealing to our love of predictability and banking on us returning again and again. The theory: Your brain is thinking happy thoughts like, “I know how long it will take me to get out every time I go to Target, so I’ll keep shopping there.”

No brainer?
Given the incremental but proven statistical benefits, the question may be why all stores don’t use a funnel-style checkout system.

“The reason is, retailers are conservative,” said John. “They know about the psychology involved, and they don’t want to worry about what it does to the psychology of sales.”

And there’s the rub.

“Psychologically we feel [the single-file system] takes away our freedom of choice — we can’t pick the clerk we like for whatever reasons,” said John.

“It can feel like being at the airport or Disneyland. It’s such a negative experience that even if I told you it would minimize the variation of time spent at the store, you don’t buy it. It’s an abstract benefit. I think psychologically, customers are going to react negatively for a while,” said John.

As a Target customer, his assessment strikes me as spot-on.

The new checkout feels onerous and obnoxious, and just maybe, a bit nefarious.

The snaking single-file queue is one thing, but the cramped, small platforms at checkout feel like a hassle. It’s the final step in an unsettling, if not, downright negative experience. You really can feel like a guinea pig with no free will.

With the test occurring at only one Target store — an inner-city location — there also can be the perception that customers who shop there are being treated differently than customers at other Target stores?
Target customers at Lake Street are predominantly people of color, many of them Latino and Somali immigrants, with varying degrees of proficiency in English. I have heard it referred to as the “multicultural” or “ghetto” Target.
Anecdotally, I have heard repeated complaints about this Target from my friends — that the service is poor and that it doesn’t have the selection or stock of other Target stores.

I go to the Lake Street Target all the time, but if I want an “enhanced” Target experience, I go to the suburbs.

Retail redlining issue
That perception raises the specter of “retail redlining” — a subject academics started looking at in the 1990s. Since then, research has confirmed the existence of unfair treatment in retail experiences in certain areas.
Denver D’Rozario, a Howard University marketing professor, co-wrote a seminal 2005 article  defining and documenting “retail redlining.” Examples include higher fees charged to minority owners of franchises, refusal of service to all customers in certain areas, and a lack of an upscale chain store’s presence in an area.
When I described the checkout system to him, D’Rozario said if he were to rewrite his article, he would include things like the new checkout system as an example of potential retail redlining. But, he stresses, he has not studied the case in detail and is not accusing Target of the practice.
D’Rozario referred me to a section of a 1993 study by authors Judith Bell and Maria Burlin about how people were paying more for food in urban areas:
“Poor, often minority consumers in urban areas who cannot travel [because they often lack independent means of transportation] to better stores [most often in the suburbs] often find themselves forced to shop at overcrowded, shabby stores, which most often offer limited selections of merchandise…”
Based on that description and D’Rozario’s own research, he concluded that there are three ways to look at Target’s new checkout system test.

“There is no hard evidence, but it appears to me to be retail redlining that is either willful (sins of commission) or negligent (sins of omission) or imagined (customers are making a mountain out of a molehill).”

Target’s LaFromboise did not respond directly to the concerns of possible redlining or negative perceptions about the Lake Street store.

“This is a test just focused on superior shopping for guests, including what our guests in that store think and feel about it,” he said.

As to why just one inner city store was chosen out of Target’s 74 stores statewide, LaFromboise again cited its closeness to downtown headquarters, “so teams can be on-site more frequently and make design changes more quickly if they’re needed.”

Also, he said the Lake Street store could benefit from an organized queue because it has “a high volume of guests and a smaller average transaction size, which differs from many suburban stores such as Edina or Roseville.”

Because Target does not discuss its financial information or details about profit or loss of any particular store, it’s hard to know how big a difference there is in the number of customers and  transaction size from one store to the next.

The bottom line, though, may be this:

Even if the new system does prove to be faster and more efficient, Target still has to figure out a way to make it appealing to customers. And it may have even more work to do to dispel negative perceptions fairly or unfairly tainting the products and service at the Lake Street store.

Marisa Helms is a Minneapolis freelance writer.

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Comments (34)

  1. Submitted by Jeff Rosenberg on 11/22/2011 - 08:52 am.

    Personally, I like the new system and wish more stores used it. I no longer have to worry about whether there’s a slow person in the line I’ve chosen. And when I have my 10-month old daughter with me, I don’t have to feel guilty about *being* that slow person holding up the people behind me.

  2. Submitted by JoAnn Van Sloun on 11/22/2011 - 09:16 am.

    I am so excited! I’ve been wondering for years why we don’t use this method at check out. It makes so much sense and is going to be a much faster check out that it would be if you chose a line and it took someone forever to check out. Sounds like Target has some bugs to work out but, I am all for it!!!
    Way to go TARGET!!!!

  3. Submitted by Lois Garbisch on 11/22/2011 - 09:19 am.

    So it is like at Disney. I’ve been to Disney World and Disney land with the kids. Strongest impression: the lines, the waiting, the snaking around lines. STRONGLY NEGATIVE IMPRESSION. FAIL.

    If I were in an urban area with little choice for groceries, I might like to get my groceries at Target. But the Target I shop at is near to two very nice large grocery stores. In my opinion, my Target is a worse store since the grocery section expanded. Space was taken away from having more variety in other departments, so I have to go to other stores to get some basic items.

  4. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 11/22/2011 - 09:33 am.

    The same system is used in other stores, notably discount stores like Marshall’s. It may be efficient–like it or not, being funneled like cattle is the most efficient way to move people and the reason why entrances and exits at large venues funnel people–but if you have a choice in the matter, people don’t like to be funneled and will avoid it. That is, I suspect that this more efficient way to check people out is more often used at stores that have an economically captive audience (though I have also seen a similar system at Best Buy, too…). Me, I’d put up with it over the holidays, and then I’d gladly avoid it.

  5. Submitted by Steve Rose on 11/22/2011 - 09:34 am.

    The organizing queue and the lack of a conveyor belt are two different issues. The organizing queue can be done with a conveyor belt. The lack of a belt is a Sam’s Club or Trader Joe’s retail experience.

    The organizing queue (OQ) would be good for me, as I reliably pick the shortest and shortest line. The OQ would also prevent me from being stalled by that flashing customer service light, that must wait for a manager to extinguish.

  6. Submitted by Alexis Bell on 11/22/2011 - 09:34 am.

    This is the closest Target to my house and I have been going to this location for many years. Since the new layout my wait time has more than tripled every time I go in. The new checkout platforms are extremley inconvenient. Most people get cartloads of stuff at Target. There is only room for about 5 items on the platform, and that is being generous. If your cart is still full of stuff, there is literally no place to put the items you just purchased. I will not be going back until the old layout is back.

  7. Submitted by Curtis Griesel on 11/22/2011 - 09:42 am.

    I am getting tired of all of these places referring to their customers as “guests”. When I have a guest at my house, I offer them something to eat and drink, give them a bed for the night, and offer to show them around town. All without charge, of course. Target will never do that for any of their “guests”.

    I am a customer. I go to Target because I need something and I’m willing to spend money to get it. Target is there to meet my need and take my money in exchange. That is a business / customer relationship. Calling that relationship a “guest” relationship only cheapens what it means to be a guest in our society.

  8. Submitted by Paul Landskroener on 11/22/2011 - 09:51 am.

    Thanks for this article. This is our neighborhood Target, and when I first saw the new system — which was not advertised as a test as far as I can remember — I immediately hated it at an emotional level, even though I quickly realized that, as a statistical matter, it likely got me out of the store quicker. I now put up with it without much fuss.

    This is one of those issues where we are asked to believe something that is empirically true on a macro level that is counterintuitive on an individualized level. For example, it is a demonstrable fact that more people are more likely to arrive at their destinations earlier if everyone drives more slowly than if they all speed. But many find this hard to believe and so they continue to drive fast in the hope that they can beat the odds. The hell of it is, some of them will, and that reinforces the behavior. Just like the shoppers who make the lucky guess and get in the faster moving line; they’re a minority of all shoppers, but many seem to prefer to take their chances. It’s similar to why many voluntarily throw their money away on lottery tickets, even though they “know” on an objective level that they’ll never win a dime.

    If Target’s statistics are objectively true that the funnel shortens checkout times on average, then its problem is to make their shoppers’ subjective experience coincide with the facts.

  9. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 11/22/2011 - 09:59 am.

    Target usually has two entrances spaced widely apart. I usually park near the entrance close to where I will do the majority of my shopping. Having one line that feeds a half a block’s worth of counters sounds nuts to me. It would take me a half a minute or more to walk to the far counter when it was my turn.

    I think if I ran into this setup, the first time I saw it I’d put my items on the floor and leave the store and go somewhere else to shop. I’m not poor and trapped without a car or options. Sure wouldn’t want to be in those lines with the small counters at this time of year.

    And I don’t buy the excuse that this is the closest Target to headquarters. How many extra minutes would it take them to get out to Ridgedale or some suburban Target. First they’ll lower the expectations for the poor people, then gradually work their way out until all of the 99% are affected and then the 1% dude who thought this up can get a nice big bonus check.

    That should be one happy place late on Thanksgiving night.

  10. Submitted by Andy Combites on 11/22/2011 - 10:20 am.

    I used to work down in that neck of the woods and shopped at this Target frequently. I heard from two former Target employees that this location was chosen because it had the highest shoplifting/theft rate out of all the Target stores in the Twin Cities. By eliminating all of the “easy exits” created with multiple checkout lanes that would be there with no cashier present, and funneling everyone through this single queue (I believe you have to go through a similar single exit even if you are NOT making a purchase), their goal is to reduce theft.

    It was fine this summer when there were not than many people, and they were only purchasing a few small items. Can’t imagine what it will be like in the coming weeks with lots of people with lots of purchases, some of them large. Traffic jam ahead.

  11. Submitted by Carol Logie on 11/22/2011 - 10:26 am.

    This is our neighborhood Target, and I now avoid it almost entirely due to this new system. And I don’t think management is as receptive to feedback as Target implies. When I expressed my negative opinion to a manager shortly after the new system was put in place, he laughed and shrugged.

    It’s incredible to see what a mess the winding displays become as the line progresses. People use the time spent waiting in line to discard things they have second thoughts about. I’ve seen underwear shoved into the racks with the goldfish crackers. People leave their trash and coffee cups on the shelves. It is truly unpleasant.

    I, too, am suspicious of the selection of the Lake street store as the pilot for this program. It smells of something other than “enhancing the guest shopping experience”. I think it has more to do with crowd and theft control, and they are not too subtle about it. I’ve long been frustrated with the Lake Street store’s limited selections and chaotic layout, so I’m actually happy that this is the final nail in the coffin for us.

  12. Submitted by Rick Prescott on 11/22/2011 - 10:53 am.

    This is a great article because it covers essentially everything I’ve ever thought while standing in that new queue.

    I like the new configuration (though the small counters are a real logistical problem when you have more than a couple of items), but it’s quite obvious that most people around me do not. And that’s because we always will value intuition (irrational but very personal) over any sort of statistic (rational but highly impersonal). It’s the same exact reason people are afraid of flying.

    What people fail to notice is that even when the queue is long, it simply never stops moving. A new checkout desk opens every few seconds. I’m quite convinced that my wait times are significantly shorter overall, though there’s no denying that they are always longer than when I got lucky on the old system.

    In other words, the potential “thrill” of finding a fast lane is simply not possible anymore. All those checkout skills we believe we’ve developed (spotting the fast cashier or slow customer, the item in someone’s cart likely to be missing its bar code) no longer apply. What seemed like skill — but was actually largely luck — is no longer part of the equation. We’re not observers or decision-makers anymore. We go from perceiving ourselves as powerful to being verifiably powerless.

    What with perception being reality and all, there’s no doubt that Target will have to abandon this idea when the test is over. And the marketeer who developed it will just be the latest victim of the irrationality of the human.

  13. Submitted by L Janovsky on 11/22/2011 - 11:50 am.

    No, No please! I have been to some smaller stores with this system and I hate it. I disagree with their “shopper psychology” analysis. One big longer line does not make me think I will get checked out sooner. You don’t even have to be a control freak to want to know what is going on in front of you & make constant mental calculations about when your turn will be! I go to Super Target once a week and spend at least $250. If my Target were to implement this, I would go elsewhere—maybe even to Super Walmart, and Walmarts are notorious for slow checkout.

  14. Submitted by Stan Hooper on 11/22/2011 - 12:04 pm.

    There is often a duplicity in administrative actions to make change: what they say for marketing and public relations may have truth in it, but there are unsaid things as well, such as the suggested purpose of minimizing theft. I have another suggestion: somewhere down the line it will reduce the number of employees as the full change develops.

  15. Submitted by Pat Thompson on 11/22/2011 - 12:44 pm.

    First, I want to compliment my fellow commenters on the high quality of thought all around, even though there is disagreement. Must be because this topic doesn’t attract the few MinnPost trolls.

    I think it’s important to differentiate the small counter from the single queue. If Target got rid of the small counters and brought back the conveyor belts, I wonder how many people would feel the consolidated line was a deal-breaker?

    I haven’t seen the layout, but I wonder if the small counters were seen as necessary to allow room for the winding queue within the existing checkout area footprint? In a new store, possibly it could be built with larger checkout stations.

  16. Submitted by Derek Reise on 11/22/2011 - 01:14 pm.

    I don’t see why the slur of referring my neighborhood’s Target as the “ghetto Target” serves a useful function in this article.

    This is a clean, friendly Target with just as good service as any other. My only general complaint is that they seem to have less selection than bigger Target stores.

    As for the experiment. I works fine when I’ve been there. The only frustration I’ve experienced is that you have to weave around a long row of junk food and magazines and other garbage to get where you need to be, even if there are absolutely no customers ahead of you. There should be a shortcut when the line isn’t long.

  17. Submitted by sheldon mains on 11/22/2011 - 01:41 pm.

    That is “my” Target. I’m there probably twice a week. What I’ve seen is people seem to like the new system. No more guessing what line will be the fastest (something I’m terrible at). My reaction to the first part of the story was that the reporter was “picking nits”–finding everything possible to complain about.

  18. Submitted by Brian Hanf on 11/22/2011 - 02:13 pm.

    I think the Best Buy in Maple Grove has a line like this. My favorite store I go to and I spend about $1000 a month at, Micro Center, has it also. I hated the line at Micro Center at first but have come to love how fast the check out really is. When the line gets long and they add a cashier, a whole group of customers doesn’t move, the line just goes faster!

  19. Submitted by Michael Kowalson on 11/22/2011 - 02:22 pm.

    We have had the “cattle-herders” as I call them in Canada for 2-3 years at Wal-Mart. I have never been able to stand them as they do remind me of how they line up cattle for the slaughter – and it shows exactly what the retailers who use them think of their customers – just cattle who spend money.

  20. Submitted by Aaron Jones on 11/22/2011 - 02:35 pm.

    The Target located at The Quarry in NE Mpls is fairly close to Target HQ as well. Are checkout employees being timed per “guest” checkout? Better, faster, more efficient. I’m going shopping to Kmart at Lake and Nicollet. At least they’re open all day on Thanksgiving… sigh.

  21. Submitted by Ray Marshall on 11/22/2011 - 02:40 pm.

    “I object to having to line up and wend my way around the aisles filled with more stuff. It’s an offensive marketing tool.”
    You mean she likes to check out 14 checkout lines to see which one is shortest and then stand in line waiting for three people in front of her? And she has no willpower and ends up buying five more things?
    I think it’s slick! Fast! I don’t have to make a decisions as to the shortest line. The line is always moving because a register is always opening up and if someone has problems or a huge order, that doesn’t really slow down the movement of the line.

  22. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 11/22/2011 - 03:22 pm.

    First of all, I believe the Target at the Quarry in Northeast Minneapolis is closer to the downtown Target headquarters than the Lake St. Target. So excusing the use of Lake St. for this experiment by claiming that it’s closer is bogus. I’m persuaded by the anti-theft explanation, which of course no one at Target will ever admit to.

    Someone commenting here also mentioned something that immediately occurred to me: the eventual goal the corporation has of employing fewer checkout clerks with the use of this new single-queue system. Feeding everyone to one or two tight spaces means you only have to hire two, maybe three, clerks, instead of what I regularly see at my Target, which is half a dozen or so.

    Plus, I don’t know that I’ve ever waited more than five minutes in a Target checkout line, in Roseville or the Quarry store. They have ample checkout lanes. No problem. You people have actually had to WAIT?

    But, no one here seems to be able to address the apparently stupid elimination of the conveyor belt on which you could place everything (almost–furniture is hard!) from your cart. Why that? It seems an irritant, and would slow things down.

    And: please, Target and all you school-trained marketers: don’t ignore the consumer’s emotional responses! That’s where it’s all based. Being herded like cattle down a chute is unpleasant, not being able to unload all my stuff is unpleasant, not being listened to by Target managers is unpleasant, . . . .

  23. Submitted by Norman Larson on 11/22/2011 - 03:22 pm.

    I agree with Curtis Griesels’ comments about retailers calling their cusomters “guests”. Referring to “guests” is one of the dumbest things stores have done, and when they have surveys asking for comments, I tell them so.

    In regard to the queue system, I think it might work with modifications. For example, there could be a checkout lane for people with, say, 5 or fewer items.(Note the use of 5 or fewer rather than 5 for less.) There would have to be a monitor, though, to ensure that people in the line actually had 5 or fewer items.

    Banks have used the queue system for a long time. The only retail establishment I have been in with such a queue is TJ Maxx in Burnsville.

  24. Submitted by John Reinan on 11/22/2011 - 03:48 pm.

    Count me as one who doesn’t like to stand in a long line, even though I understand that it’s measurably and reliably faster.

    It’s simply a psychological/emotional thing. Being the third person in line at an individual checkout stand feels more on a human scale than being the 17th person in a cattle chute that feeds 12 checkout stands.

    It’s not rational, but there it is.

  25. Submitted by ryan olson on 11/22/2011 - 05:33 pm.

    yeah this happens with alot of businesses and they depend on customers to either be loyal and not go anywhere to know the difference or like said in article unavailablity of transport. case in point the superones in duluth on top of hill and in west end. In West End i found when shopping with my brother everything seemed to be 1 dollar more on more expensive items and 50 cents more on small items.

  26. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/22/2011 - 06:31 pm.

    For what it’s worth, “my” Target (Brooklyn Center) is already something of a hybrid of this. There are no conveyor belts, and there haven’t been any in the 2-1/2 years I’ve been here. There is, however, that small area on which to place purchases, and gripes about that being too small seem spot-on to me.

    But the store I generally shop at has retained the multiple checkout lanes. I rarely have to wait more than a minute or two at the 3 or 4 lanes that are generally open. If the lines start to back up, I can see a supervisor calling for backup help to eliminate the backup, and it comes pretty quickly.

    I always assume that changes like this are intended, at least in part, to reduce personnel costs. One of the more unpleasant surprises of moving here was to find that the grocery chains I can afford to shop at expect and assume that customers will bag their own groceries. That eliminates the need for baggers, and is a way to hold down personnel costs, but it comes with its own, usually unacknowledged, cost. I use reusable fabric bags, and it’s not that big a deal in terms of the labor involved, but neither I nor any of the customers at the grocery store that I’ve seen qualify as “speedy” when it comes to putting the food and produce in the bags efficiently and quickly.

    I’ve never encountered a retail model so thoroughly guaranteed to slow the checkout procedure to an annoying crawl. While I’m surprised that Target hasn’t already installed this, too, as a “test” at some area stores, perhaps they’ve already done so in the past, before I arrived, and realized that annoyed customers are not the most loyal.

    The several who’ve said in one way or another that their response is essentially emotional may be stating something that Target marketing people don’t want to hear, but I have little sympathy. Humans are emotional creatures, and my response to this experiment is similar. I don’t care if it’s faster, I’m going to shop somewhere else rather than endure the feeling that I’m in a cattle chute situation. Store management / corporate headquarters seem to be interested in efficiency in the scientific sense of time management, etc., which typically fails to take into account the fact that customers like to be treated like human beings, and a lengthy line is not the way to do that. In similar fashion, I’m automatically skeptical of anyone who refers to me as a “guest” in a store. Their company may have spent millions on advertising, but I have not been invited – in any normally human, interactive way – to be a “guest” in their store. I’m there because the store has things I need or want. The term “Guest” is as phony as a $3 bill.

  27. Submitted by Elaine Frankowski on 11/22/2011 - 08:17 pm.

    I shop at the Lake St. Target but I don’t fit the Lake St. Target customer demo you described […predominantly people of color, many … Latino and Somali immigrants, with varying degrees of proficiency in English.] I am an affluent Ph.D. whose first language is English who was born in this country and whose sensibilities are definitely American.

    I love the new system. I think I get to a register more quickly than I used to. I also feel that I’m not in some kind of “pick-the-right-queue” lottery [which, BTW, I always lose]. This system has been used in banks for years and no one saw discrimination.

    We all dislike waiting for service; we don’t control things while we wait. Possibly some of us feel that if we chose a queue we’d be more in control. Hah!

  28. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/22/2011 - 11:54 pm.

    Best Buy uses this format at MOA and more stores during the holidays. It works well for a place like this where people aren’t usually buying a ton of individual things. At a Target or Cub though it can be a totally different story. I consider myself a seasoned pro now at sizing up people’s loads and making an educated guess as to the quickest line but still can get caught up with that inevitable manager question or someone counting out their pennies. One pro I do see to this format is all cashiers are guaranteed to be utilized as opposed to say that lone cashier who is waiting at the far end of the aisle. Then again those are the cashiers I look for!

  29. Submitted by Rick Prescott on 11/23/2011 - 01:22 am.

    These comments are fascinating. Clearly, this little experiment is something of a Rorschach test. You can see in it whatever you wish, from, “It treats people like cattle” to “It’s harmless and I like it” to “People are emotional beings” to “Target is racist.” It reveals more about each of us than we might care to acknowledge.

    In truth, this test is clearly just about maximizing profits — whether that is by reducing personnel costs, offering a (potentially) superior checkout experience, reducing theft, increasing impulse purchases, or whatever other variables may be in play. The idea that anything nefarious is underway — either overtly, covertly, or inadvertently — is really stretching. This test is costing a lot of money, and Target would not do that anywhere if they did not think there was the potential to make more money as a result. (For the record, using Google Earth you can quickly calculate that the Quarry store is 3.1 miles from the downtown headquarters as the crow flies, while Hiawatha is 2.5 miles.)

    Don’t think too much. This is about profit, people.

    It’s also, at least in part, about building the proverbial better mousetrap. After seeing such queuing strategies used successfully elsewhere (Barnes & Noble was the first which came to mind for me), one can certainly imagine a Target exec thinking they could do the same thing, and probably improve on it. The idea basically BEGS a test.

    The key calculation is whether people hate the change enough to offset any potential financial gains. Clearly, they do. Well, let’s put it this way: People who hate it, hate it a whole lot. People who like it don’t seem to show much passion. Thus, the ‘nays’ have it. (It’s the story of our times, I’m afraid.)

    This was totally predictable for anyone who understands human nature. Still, hard data has some advantages. (To those who object to being used as guinea pigs: take a course in marketing. In 21st century America, you are someone’s guinea pig in every waking moment. Oh wait, sleeping moments, too.)

    But the whole discussion has me wondering if you might be able to find a correlation between how people evaluate their own skills at choosing a lane and their reaction to the single-queue approach. My hypothesis would be that people who have a high regard for their ability to choose a lane (i.e. believing they were more likely to win than lose, regardless of actual outcome) would be the most likely to hate the new approach.

    But please don’t pass this hypothesis on to anyone at Target. We don’t want to encourage any more contentious testing!

  30. Submitted by chris hatch on 11/23/2011 - 08:44 am.

    regarding the questions about the Quarry, that is the Target closest to my house and they are running a checkout test there too.

    at the Quarry they have moved the returns area out to where the ’10 or fewer’ used to be.

    at the Downtown Target they are testing self-checkout.

    I really don’t think there is anything nefarious/racist at all in the selection of Lake Street for this

  31. Submitted by April King on 11/23/2011 - 08:50 am.

    This is my home Target, and I’ve been using the new system probably three (or more) times a week since it first appeared. I like to chat with customers in line as well as the cashiers, and I honestly haven’t run into a single person who has enjoyed the new system. People just don’t like it, and understandably so.

    First of all, I do appreciate and understand that, statistically, the new system has on average far less variance and the average wait time has probably gone down by a small but statistically significant amount. And while there probably isn’t a whole lot of need to rehash the complaints in the older comments — namely the laughably tiny ledge space and feeling like cattle — there are few other issues I’ve found with the new system.

    I live approximately a mile from this Target. Given that it’s located in a fairly high-density mixed commercial and residential area, I suspect that this isn’t unusual for a large portion of this Target’s customer base. Since I live so close, it rarely makes sense for me to drive there: I just grab my backpack, walk 15 minutes, and I’m there.

    Because I can carry so few items, my usual method of shopping involved grabbing a basket, getting the ten or so items I needed, and checking out. Previously, I would just go to a conveyor belt line, set my stuff down, and wait to be checked out. Now, I have to hold my items and slowly (but inexorably) be shuffling forward. When I have a 12-pack of soda — that I would previously grab as my last item — a gallon of milk, and a few other sundry items, it gets very heavy and uncomfortable. I’ve taken to setting my basket on the floor and kicking/pushing it forward with my feet.

    And even with just a single basket’s worth of items, working with cashiers to shuffle items back and forth on that tiny counter to get them in my backpack in the right order feels like I’m in some sort of future dystopian comedy. It’s absurd.

    So yeah, it’s really a miserable experience for shoppers like me who are trying to do the environmental conscious thing by not making large weekly trips by car and by only getting the items I need now (which reduces waste).

    Of all the weird checkout systems that I’ve run into over my years of shopping, I honestly like Aldi’s method the best. There’s no traditional conveyor — they pull the items out of your cart, scan them, and put them into the previous customer’s cart. Once that’s done, you pay and take your items over to a ledge to bag them yourself. It’s both economical (which theoretically pushes prices down) and fast because the cashier isn’t bagging. You don’t waste bags on things you don’t need bagged. And hey, if a plastic bag splits because somebody decided to put 10lbs of canned goods into a single bag, well, you only have yourself to blame.

    Honestly, I just wish that Target Corporation would stop playing around with the various gimmicks and remodelings at this Target. It’s *obvious* they want to make it something other closer to a SuperTarget, so they should just stop jerking their customers around with constant remodelings and experimentation and buy out the tiny stores in the strip next to it. Make it into a traditional SuperTarget and be done with it. Sheesh.

    @Andy Combites: Yeah, it wouldn’t be a surprise to me that this Target has high shoplifting rates. It’s within walking distance of a lot of 10-16 year old kids. The only other Target I can think of in the Twin Cities that probably has a similar demographic is perhaps the Midway Target (which is quite nice now). The only way that kids without cars are getting to, say, the Ridgedale Target, are if their parents are driving them.

  32. Submitted by Jane Krokus on 11/23/2011 - 10:24 am.

    I wouldn’t draw conclusions about racial profiling just yet. The register changes may be marketed as something to improve your wait time, but in reality it’s probably more along the lines of reducing their payroll. They cut thousands in their corporate offices and moved to India. Then they demoted all of their area managers and saved millions in payroll and benefits. Now they’re piloting self-serve registers in some areas, and the single line queue directed by computers rather than their customer service manager. That’s another $20000 x 4 per store x year. I understand retail stores are currently more focused on improving their online presence, and reducing in store expenses is an every day dilemma in business… I just hope they realize the value of developing talent and delivering great customer service before they go the way of circuit city…

  33. Submitted by Marsha Kelly on 11/23/2011 - 03:34 pm.

    Target is moving to a customer-management system that is modeled after the airlines?? You’re kidding, right? Who in their right mind would model ANYTHING after the way people are treated in air travel?? Target, I don’t know what your management team is smoking, but whatever it is, they need to stop before you drive yourselves out of business. I’ve never seen a business so determined to undo all the good well it’s built up over the past 30 years. This is like watching a train wreck. Sad, very sad.

  34. Submitted by John Peschken on 01/21/2014 - 03:46 pm.

    Standard Response

    “”Target’s goal is to continually improve our guest experience,” he said. “We regret any inconvenience experienced while we test this new system.””

    I’m sure that is the previously memorized PR department answer for any customer problem. It shows no thought, empathy, or desire to solve the problem.

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