A mysterious Target employee has come forward to share a closely guarded secret with the readers of Consumerist. The secret of why Target is so freaking crazy.
Consumerist has brought to light examples of the retailer’s loose grip on reality for years now, and we have learned the real reason. Mostly, it’s the computers’ fault.
I’ll go with the easiest thing to explain first. Every store has a special team of workers who go through and find products that are on sale but out of stock. They set up rain checks using their gun or store PDA. When they set up a rain check the program asks if they want to set up a substitution along with the rain check. A substitution isn’t a real substitution, it’s Target’s way of saying, “F***, we have no more of this, and we have a rain check for you, but we’re going to immediately put something else on sale right now that you might enjoy also.” Stores actually get graded on how many substitutions are attached to rain checks. The more substitutions, the higher the score, the higher the store ranks in their region.
For instance – say a 5×7 white frame is on sale but the store is out of it. The employee sets up a rain check and gets a substitution prompt. They have to find an item in that aisle that isn’t also on sale to put on sale. In the frame aisle, you have a good chance of finding something decent to substitute. In other aisles, you might not be so lucky. Like the iPod. There is nothing logical to substitute – so a lot of the time we find an accessory to substitute. Now you get earbuds on sale, and a rain check for the sale price of the iPod if you’re willing to wait a couple of extra days. It’s a shame that it’s poorly named and not well explained to customers who must look at those signs and think the employees are really only earning their minimum wage.
Some rules to substitutions:
- Employees can’t put something that’s already on sale or on clearance as a substitution.
- Employees can’t find something from another aisle, even if it make sense.
- Employees can’t adjust pricing on things like 42″ TVs.
- Sometimes you’re going to see batteries as a substitute for a DVD player because it’s in the same aisle and the only thing not on sale.
- Most DVDs and CDs aren’t authorized for substitution because they come from vendors and not a distribution center.
- Since the employee picks the item… sometimes they’ll pick an item they’ve had their eye on. When we were out of a $20 sale plate set, I took the opportunity to place an $80 dishware set on sale and the system marked it down to $40. I won, and of course, anyone who also wanted said plate set won. Of course, another time I had to substitute a pregnancy test for a box of condoms. (I was being ironic in frustration, but the system accepted it. Maybe computers DO have a twisted sense of humor.) Sometimes the substitutions will be lame, and other times they’ll be sweet.
- If you see a sale item out of stock and no rain checks, you can ask someone to set up a rain check for you. Usually it will be a team leader or higher if it’s late.
As awesome and efficient as Target is, there are too many variables affecting proper display of pricing in the store. You have a team that cleans up the aisles and pulls merchandise forward who sometimes get lazy and just put things places. You have a team that handles signing. You have a team that handles stocking shelves. You have a team that handles pricing. All of those teams have overlapping responsibilities that can sometimes cause crazy pricing labels.
Target has a labeling system designed to help employees easily identify merchandise that is normal merchandise, discontinued by the distribution center, discontinued by the manufacturer, changed by the manufacturer, out of stock, in multiple locations in the store, or getting ready to go on sale. It goes by color, lines, dots, and numbers.
In the case of the diapers – the manufacturer added 10 additional diapers to the total in the package. Target still had a bunch of the old count lying around. They sold as much of it off as they could. When the shelves became bare, a team came and reset the shelves to fill it back in with the new product. Any remaining product with the smaller count was supposed to be marked by another team with clearance stickers. But wait – it’s Tuesday! That team won’t be coming to the infants section for another two days! And the team that was supposed to reset the shelves dropped the 54 count price tag on the floor! And the team that kept the shelves and aisles cleaned put it back up! Auuuuugh! Chaos ensues! Customers think Target is crazy!
And if it is a complete screw up and the pricing hasn’t changed (because the product number is still the same because technically, it is the same product, just with more diapers) in the system – you can always talk to someone at Guest Services or at a cash register. Every single employee at Target has the authority to price change in situations like this. Not all of the employees know this – especially employees who work in the stockroom or are new and weren’t properly trained. You can even talk to someone on the floor and they can call up to the cash registers and tell them to change the price for you.
That goes for anything. If you see something marked as one price, and it scans or rings up wrong, you can tell someone and have the price corrected. It’s best to find someone on the sales floor to clear it up instead of waiting until the cash register (because the cashier is going to call the sales floor anyway), but we’re all trained to take reasonable offers. Or we should be. A lot of the bad service complaints come from encounters with new employees who don’t know any better and don’t want to get in trouble for changing things.
Although, I’ll be honest, what I just told you isn’t NEARLY as fun as making fun of what looks like a bunch of idiots running a store. However, if you’re trying to get the most bang for your buck, I think every consumer should know they have this kind of power in the store and how to get around insanity.
Thank you for the clarification, mysterious Target employee. It’s true that knowing how things work is a lot less funny than an entire major retail chain descending into madness, but we’ll happily trade humor for actual knowledge.