Brand Strategy

Target: a cautionary tale for brands entering Canada

We were expecting a very American experience and got something too Canadian-like.

Image: Target store interior

The reasons for Target’s demise in Canada have been widely documented over the last couple of years. It seems that there’s general consensus that pricing, inventory issues and too many stores too soon were chiefly to blame.

The short-lived history of Target in Canada is a cautionary tale for any brand entering the Canadian market, and more specifically underscores the weight of expectation. After all, Target has been around in the United States since 1962, and many Canadians had nurtured a healthy expectation of the brand long before its first store opened here less than five years ago.

Unlike most Canadians, I had no such expectation having visited Target only once briefly during a trip to Wisconsin. I came to love Target for the cleanliness and openness of its stores and kid-friendly electronics area.

However, the typical Canadian expected much more than a friendly space and a “Hi Neighbour” message. We were looking for the best of American retail and Target, at least cosmetically, gave us a more friendly, even Canadian-like experience.

Unfortunately, it seems Target loved Canada more than we loved Target.

By nature Canadians are more practical, seeking selection and value in the retail experience. In 2014, a PWC study asked consumers why they shop at their favourite retailers/brands. Canadians cited trust in the brand, affinity for a product, and ability to check in-store stock online as their top reasons.

So what are the lessons for U.S. retailers pondering a foray into Canada? They’ll feel the full weight of expectation if they fail to offer a true point of difference from existing competitors, or don’t deliver on what we’ve come to expect through a cross-border experience.

Harbinger is a Toronto-based North American marketing agency with expertise in product launches. We help brands get noticed and purchased.


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