Target's Everyday Ineptitude Reminds Me Why I Like Online Shopping

I wanted to buy a softball glove for a game today. I called my nearest Target to find out if they had any in stock. The operator tried transferring me to the sports area three times but no one picked up. She asked me to call back. I asked if she had a fancy device for looking up the in-store stock. She said to do that she needed a specific item number. Online, Target’s wares have 3 numbers: a category #, an ASIN, and a DPCI. She needed a DCPI. I gave her one for this glove. She said they didn’t have any in stock. I then tried to look at other gloves, but the two or three that I tried didn’t have DCPI numbers…

I hung up and went to the store. I went to the sporting good section. There I found a suitable softball glove. It was the very one the operator said was not in stock.

This system, if it can be called that, is dumb, and seems to be so typical of my experience with real-world retail shopping. This is one of the reasons why, unless I need something the same day, I usually shop online, NYT articles be damned. — BEN POPKEN

(Photo: Ben Popken)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Hmm… perhaps this is why I’m suddenly fulfilling all my technological needs with online retail.

  2. sizer says:

    I’ve never had good luck calling any large store for any useful information. Fry’s, for example, is always utterly useless (and even worse often outright wrong). Home Depot? Not a chance! It’s only useful for small stores. Not sure what the cutoff size is, but I want to say less than about 6-8 employees on duty. For instance I loathe Electronic Boutique as a corporate entity, but if I call my local store results are usually good.

  3. nightbird says:

    Speak of the devil, I just got home from a Target trip. I’ve had my eye on a Roomba for a while, and when I saw Target had a model, I couldn’t resist. Took it home and charged it up, and 10 minutes into it’s first cleaning cycle, it started doing the circle dance. I was so crushed. Anyhoo, returned it at Target without issue, and got a Eureka Optima.

  4. acambras says:


    EXACTLY. I can’t remember the last time I called a store to see if something was in stock, because I figure if I do get a human on the phone, he’ll put me on hold, go take a smoke break, then get back on the phone and tell me they don’t have it.

  5. magic8ball says:

    I do tend to weigh shipping costs as well as item costs in the equation when I decide whether to buy stuff online or B&M. However, I really like the fact that when I look online, I can actually tell whether something is available or not. Calling a B&M store is totally useless. Either their in-store system can’t really tell them whether something is in stock (Borders, I’m looking at you), or they just tell you “no” because it’s too much trouble for them to go and look.

  6. ElPresidente408 says:

    The inventory system at Target is only as good as the people working it. If they take inventory out of the backroom without properly scanning it, it screws up the counts.

    Next time you’re trying to find an item, call the food court or Starbucks in the Target and ask them to do a merchandise locate on the register. Give them the DCPI and they’ll be able to tell you how many are in the store and at other Targets.

  7. oghelpme says:

    You play softball with a glove? Come to Chicago, play some 16″

  8. Hawk07 says:

    Hmmm… I called the Target operator once to get the price on a 12 pack of Pepsi and she then proceeded to give me the price of every single form of Pepsi Target sold.

    I’m pretty sure I clearly stated I want the 12-pack, but oh well, I got what I needed out of that conversation.

  9. acambras says:

    Next time you’re trying to find an item, call the food court or Starbucks in the Target and ask them to do a merchandise locate on the register. Give them the DCPI and they’ll be able to tell you how many are in the store and at other Targets.

    But do NOT ask them to sell you anything with Juicy Raspberry before the launch date!

  10. mopar_man says:

    While I enjoy going to Target more than most big-box stores, it’s unfortunate what happened but I have to agree with ElPresidente408. I must commend you on not going to Wal-Mart. The glove would’ve fallen apart in the car before you even got to use it.

  11. zolielo says:

    @ElPresidente408: Just what I was thinking, inventory management problems…

    Ben, is it really any better online? I have several times ordered only to be later told that the item was on backorder. Losing up to a few days.

  12. Bay State Darren says:

    I remember once six years when I was clerking at k-mart (first job, and I didn’t give a damn BTW), Someone called me in sporting goods from home to see if we had any ping-pong balls. “I saw some over there at some point in time. Recently, I think,” I thought, not going the eight feet to check. So I told them yes. They said they’d come in and buy them. After hanging up, I checked to see if we actually did have any. Whoops. Forty minutes later they were standing at my counter not looking very happy. I pretended like someone else had handled the call, although I did feel like a fool and a jerk.

  13. hn333 says:

    @acambras: I use to do that all the time when I worked at Petsmart. It’s quicker just to say we didn’t have it. Plus it sucked to deal with people too lazy to go to the store.

  14. Jigen says:

    Some of the girls running the service desk at my super market seem like real idiots. I don’t know how many times they’ve patched calls through to me in Produce that have nothing to do with produce. Page me saying we have a call, yet I answer and they’re looking for meat, grocery, deli, you name it. Worst part is I’ll transfer the call to the right department and they won’t answer. This results in the call being kicked back to me again, with a now pissed off customer on the line.

  15. howie_in_az says:

    Their operators working at the Target National Bank are equally inept — they once called me at 8am on a Saturday in an attempt to collect $0.11 from a previously closed account. The operator said that it had cost them more to call me than I supposedly owed them.

    I do a majority of my shopping on Amazon now.

  16. lonelymaytagguy says:

    Though usually overpriced, Radio Shack online does let you check store stock. So far, it hasn’t failed me.

  17. d0x says:

    I work at Target so let me clarify here..

    The “system” will only check for backroom locations when you enter a DPCI, if it has a backroom location it means the item is in the backroom.

    You can also check sales floor locations but that just tells you what aisle it is in not if its in stock. She probably saw no backroom locations and figured it was out. The operators are not trained to use the PDT’s or the inventory systems.

    If you wanna complain lets talk Walmart who cannot check if an item is in the backroom PERIOD. If its not on the floor at Walmart you’re out of luck. At Target you can ask for them to check and if its in the back they know exactly where it is and they can get it in 5 min tops.

  18. My experiences with Target haven’t been that bad. My wife and I picked out a nice Eddie Bauer toddler car seat for my daughter – as she is now to big to fit the rear-facing baby model. We selected the car seat on the Internet but the shipping was 1/3 the price of the seat itself.

    A quick call to our local Target (30 minutes away) let us know they do carry that particular car seat but there weren’t any in-stock. Unfortunately, they couldn’t tell us when they would be receiving one but the girl on the phone did say they get a truck every other weekday (Mon, Wed, and Fri).

    We called back Wednesday evening and they had one left and held it for us for 24 hours with nothing more than our name.

    A great experience all-around that saved us a lot of money driving back and forth. The only place I could see for improvement would be the ability to tell a customer when a particular item was coming in and possibly letting them reserve/purchase it right then on the phone for pickup when it did arrive.

  19. mrmcd says:

    Did you go to the Target in Brooklyn? Because if so, I think that store is actually part of Target’s charity work to provide employment opportunities for those who have suffered catastrophic brain injuries.

  20. Ben Popken says:

    Geran writes:

    “I work at Target. Our inventory system is not particularly good. Someone mentioned in the comments that you can do a merch locate on the registers. Yes, we can do that, but the numbers only get updated every 24 hours. If a team member does this for you, always call the other stores to make sure they actually have the item.

    In response to them saying we didn’t have any in stock. My guess is the person who answered the phone checked on our PDT (the sweet hand-held gun some of us carry around). The most they can do is check backroom stock on that. Even that will only show the physical location of the item. The only real way to know for sure if we have an item is for the team member to go out on to the sales floor with PDT in hand to see if there are any in the location given. In order to do that, we do need a DPCI. The DPCI can be found under additional information on Now, if there is no items on the floor, they can check in the backroom. Sometimes there will be a physical location in the back, but not always an item. This is caused by people not correctly removing the item in our system.

    I would also like to say that there are times it will be very hard to get a team member on the floor to answer the phone. We are often short-staffed due to call-outs or just plain poor scheduling by the computers. If it is busy, there are times when all the sales floor people are up front on the registers or just busy with guests. “

  21. karmaghost says:

    It all comes down to two things: lack of communications and/or human error. Somebody has to enter into the system that the glove is in stock and if they don’t, the computer doesn’t know any better. For stores that don’t have computer-based inventory tracking, if something’s not on the shelves where it’s supposed to be and there isn’t any in the back (or the person in charge of that department isn’t around), then employees will assume it’s out of stock.

  22. skrom says:

    I still dont understand why people are so damn lazy. This isnt 1959 where you shop by phone. Just go to the damn store and SHOP!!!. Retailers dont have hundreds of dollars of labor each week just to answer the phone. I cant think of even ONE reason people should ever call a store. I used to work in retail and people would call all the time for dumb reasons like telling us they bought something and it is broken. So what do you want me to do about it. Bring it back and exchange it. I cant fix it magically over the phone.

  23. magic8ball says:

    @ skrom: “I cant think of even ONE reason people should ever call a store.” How about because the store is a 45-minute drive from my house, so it seems cheaper, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly for me to call ahead and see if the item I need is there before I waste a trip.

  24. hn333 says:

    @skrom: Soooooo True.

  25. etinterrapax says:

    When I worked for WM, we haaaaated when people called. Mind, I was never rude to anyone on the phone, and I helped everyone as best I could. But quite often, I was caught between taking phone calls and helping people who were there in person, and it wasn’t infrequently that someone there in person insisted on being attended immediately, and who could blame them. Of course, there were also the complete boors who interrupted me as if I weren’t on the phone at all–this was before cell phones were common and the possibility that I was on a personal call was more remote–but altogether, having to deal with both was a complete headache. As someone else said, I had to go and run a register when called, also, and more often than not couldn’t get through a break or lunch without being paged. It was years before I could shop anywhere with a PA without paying attention to it. I wish I could have that whole experience erased from my head.

  26. sizer says:


    You probably think you’re actually helping your case and not perpetuating the awful stereotype of the retail establishment employee, don’t you?

  27. skrom says:


    Sorry the customers in store come first, they werent lazy and actually came to the store. IF someone doesnt answer the phone or puts you on hold for 10 minutes its because they are helping the people who bothered to come to the store.

  28. faust1200 says:

    @skrom: Holy shit. You’re retarded.

  29. SOhp101 says:

    And to think that Target is supposed to be one of the best discount retailers out there. It makes me shudder to think what I would discover in a Wal-Mart.

    @skrom: I will quote faust1200… “Holy Shit. You’re retarded.”

  30. juri squared says:


    I agree to a certain point. I think it’s also dependent on the size of the store and the sort of inventory carried.

    When I worked at a JoAnn Fabrics, I’d be able to find the item maybe 80% of the time. Fabric can be very difficult to find, especially calico. The store’s inventory system was notoriously bad, partially due to the difficulty of working with an item that’s cut off bolts by employees of varying skill. I won’t even get into the messy, messy crafts aisle or the fun of attempting to find one kind of scrapbook paper among racks of hundreds.

    However, when I worked at GameStop, it was MUCH easier to check on inventory; it usually consisted of turning around and looking in the drawer behind me.

    …and that’s a long explanation on one short reason why I liked working at GameStop better.

  31. TWinter says:

    I don’t agree with skrom’s reasoning (lazy vs. not lazy) but from the store’s perspective it does make sense to prioritize people in the store over people on the phone. The people in the store are real customers who are very likely to leave money in the store that day, people on the phone are theoretical customers – they might change their mind, they might go to another store, they might forget that they even wanted what they called about. If the store is busy, it makes perfect sense to give priority to the people most likely to spend money – the customers already in the store.

  32. hoo_foot says:

    This is still a better experience than any I’ve had at Wal-Mart.

  33. Major-General says:

    Par for the course for Target. Or Kohl’s. Or K-Mart. Or Wal-Mart. Really, where should I stop.

  34. Gari N. Corp says:

    Ben, did you try Modell’s? S’not great, but anything’s better than that Target. We once waited half an hour there for them to check on a lamp.

  35. endless says:

    Skrom is unfortunately mostly right. I have worked retail, big store and small store and in a big store phone calls are unfortunately extremely hard to take care of.

    In an ideal world, I would be very happy to actually go and look to see if your product is in stock, and quite often I do. But when there are 3 to 5 customers waiting in the store for service, frankly the person on the phone is low on the list of priorities. Why? because they took the time and money to make the drive. They are not going to be happy if they have already waited 3 to 5 minutes for help and the customer on the phone is trying to make me go and find an item for them. Its basically the same as cutting in line. And face it, no one likes some one who cuts in line.

  36. ptkdude says:

    Was Target’s inventory system licensed from IKEA? They’re just as bad. I checked IKEA’s site the other day to see if a specific coffee mug was in stock. It said no. I had other stuff to get, so I went anyway. Lo and behold… they had HUNDREDS of the mugs in stock.

  37. r81984 says:

    Walgreens is really good with their inventories. If you call up they will answer, usually within 2 rings, and 99.99999% of the time someone in the store should be avaiable to look on the shelf, backroom, or in the computer to see if we or another store has the item. That .00001% of the time where everyone is busy should not last more thn 5 minutes, unless there is a line a mile long for refunds, every register has mile long line of customers, and they are short a worker.

    Walgreens is not as big as Target or Walmart, but I guess the slightly higher prices pays for a better customer service ethic.

  38. bnissan97 says:

    For requests of the sort–I just cut to the chase and call and ask for the store manager on duty. Maybe I am naive; I just feel the manager will be more in the know.

  39. bdgbill says:

    In my opinion Target has the best customer service of any Big Box store.

    Last year I was in a Target in Maine the day before Xmas eve. I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I called out to the first Red Shirt I saw. This woman appeared to be very busy (she was nearly running when I caught her).

    This woman walked me around the store for 15 minutes and did not give up until we found the item I was looking for.

    When I checked out, the store manager happened to be standing in the checkout area. I approached him, told him my story and the womans name. He told his assistant to go find the woman and bring her to his office. He thanked me for “some good news on a crazy day” and said the woman would be recognized for her service.

    All of my other dealings with Targets all over the US have been uniformly positive.

  40. rwakelan says:


    you’ve very naive if you believe that. Asking a manager will get you shoved off on someone who actually works to answer your question (at wm, anyway). Managers sit in the office playing solataire. They have no clue what is going on on the floor and when you ask them a question they just turn around and ask the employee you ignored.

  41. kpfeif says:

    Target is our preferred store over Wal-Mart. Now that we’ve moved, we’re close to a new Wal-Mart in which they’ve fixed the stuff I can’t stand about the place. Sure, lots of pinheads shop there, but it’s mostly naturally lit via skylights, the aisles are big, and, the most important thing: they always have whatever item I’m there to buy.

    Target has better stores, products, etc., but it seems that no matter what I’m there to buy, they’re out of it. It happens every time we’re there. I’m not talking about the Wii, either. Everyday stuff. It’s aggravating, especially considering one of the Target distribution centers in within 20 miles.

  42. Lawchick says:

    If they have in stock online, you might be better off buying it there. We recently ran into the issue of buying a toaster oven at Target, only to find it cheaper on their website. Upon returning to the store with the oven to try and get a price match, we were told in no uncertain terms that not only do they NOT price match their own website, they won’t price match other local Target stores. Shop around.

  43. strandist says:

    Oh how I miss the days when one would actually go to the store and look around for something they want instead . Really, if you want that kind of service, why not call your local sporting goods specialty store? Blaming Target for not having enough people to pander to your every need is not their fault. That’s how they keep prices low.

  44. rjhiggins says:

    Hawk 07 writes: “I called the Target operator once to get the price on a 12 pack of Pepsi…”

    You have a lot of time on your hands, huh?

  45. any such name says:

    This is why I won’t go to Borders anymore – if something is listed as “in stock” online, it frequently is not in the stores. And the nitwits that work there are lazy. And they get ONE copy of a Criterion Collection release in on the day it comes out. So fuck Borders.

    I don’t know what I’ll do when Virgin closes shop here in Chicago. Probably buy more cheap jewelry from Forever 21. =(

  46. alicetheowl says:

    @ptkdude: Ah, but was it the EXACT same coffee mug, which was manufactured on the EXACT same day as the one on the website?

    I work in a retail setting (small, local), inputting new items into our computers and helping to track inventory. If I had $1 for every time I had to change around a style number because the vendor changed it, even though it was the EXACT SAME THING, I could retire in luxury. Before I came on, we had a number of duplicate items that were put in differently each time the style number changed. That was quite the inventory nightmare.

    I’m wondering why Ben didn’t check the online availability, if he was already online. You put in your ZIP code, and it tells you, with reasonable accuracy, whether that item is likely to be in stock. If it doesn’t matter which glove, why didn’t he just check several of them to hedge his bets? Why bother involving another human in this when the system is set up to get around that, and the stores are staffed with the assumption that people will do it?

    One place I worked (and I loved working there, but it closed when the mall jacked the rent), I had a boss who explicitly told me to ignore the phone if I was with a customer. The people who wanted to spend money NOW took precedence over the people who MIGHT spend money at some nebulous point in the future. And when I’m a customer in the store, I HATE having to stand around and wait while someone takes care of someone on the phone. If I have a question (which isn’t often; I’m a pretty self-sufficient shopper), I don’t want to have to hang out for fifteen minutes while some bored housewife has the store associate running around to get the prices on 50 different things.

  47. FINANCE101 says:

    Nice photo Ben. At first I thought it must be a Bresson.

  48. mandarin says:

    I dont work for any retail store but…

    It could be that the person who was talking to you really doesnt know how to access the inventory database. You could have just waited and called later on when someone is in the sports department.

    Dont have a cow man.

  49. Kbomb says:

    I shop at home because I hate to fight traffic. I let the mail carrier do the footwork for me while I enjoy more of my precious leisure time.

    16″ Softball rules!

  50. MariSama44 says:

    I used to work at Target, and this happened all the time. There are two stores in my town and usualy it happened more at the north store and less at my store…but the fact is alot of the time the store is so understaffed that people cant get away from whatever they’re doing to take a call, and…annoying as it is, it takes a while to get a hold of them. That, and as an operator, you arent allowed to leave your desk. So instead of saying “I can’t do it” they just say its not in stock. I’m not saying its right — when I worked as operator I never did that. I kept harrassing the department I needed over walkies untill they picked up. But hey…every store is different.

  51. ikimashokie says:


    When you live in the middle of nowhere, it’s by far cheaper to call a store and ask if they have something, than it is to spend the 5 dollars in gas to go there, find out they don’t have it, and spend the 5 dollars to go back.

    As far as people calling for returns, I’ve made a habit of it, especially if I can’t find a receipt, or think someone might try to pull a fast one on me. I’ll call and say when I was in the store, what I bought, what line I went through, and a few other inane details, perhaps so the store knows to expect me, but more for my sanity to say “they know there’s a problem, (name) told me to (perform action regarding problem)”.

    Also, with the 45 minute drives to get places, it helps to know if it’s something the store will take, or if you have to call the manufacturer.

  52. bourgeoisie says:

    I’m curious to know how many here are SUV drivers that use phone shopping to conserve gas because that takes a lot of the validity out of that argument…

    I think there’s a reasonable balance, it’s really not considerate or practical to constantly call for stock checks, but at the same time if I was buying a tv or vacuum or another expensive item I would probably call ahead also.

    To each their own but I hope all you phone shoppers realize the importance of the in-store purchase as well. Personally I enjoy the instant gratification of walking out of the store with whatever it is I just paid for, not having to wait for it to arrive via ups.

  53. jeanrtco says:

    DO NOT open registry at targets, unless you know that all your guests are perfect at keeping their receipts, including gift receipts and making sure that they or the store clerk has removed it from the registry! You can’t be responsible for all your guests and the store clerk following through and w/o that receipt targets will make it impossible to return your duplicate items.

    Daughter opened her registry in Jan. and wedding was aug 10, they did not allow items over $20 to be returned even when purchased off the registry. we also had the problem of them not being removed, this makes me think part of the blame for not removing items from the registry is the fault of target, as they scan the paper and sometimes it doesn’t scan properly. They refused to give us store credit. 3 Blenders (only sold at targets!) they are $29.99- $9.99 over their $20 limit. Is is my daughter’s fault that targets did not remove it or that her guest may have forgotten to have it removed???? Does that mean we should inform all our guests that they must attach a targets receipt. As far as paying attention to their registry??? How were we to know if any one had purchased it????, so we could remove it? Anyways, store mgr and corporate office said the same out of luck!

    This is there email response to me from the corporate office:
    “If you don’t have a receipt, we still have a few options for you:

    – Your local store will accommodate two no receipt returns a year for you on small gifts under $20.
    – We have the ability to look up a receipt’s information for the gift giver, so they can make a return on most purchases, provided they purchased your item with a check, Target GiftCard, credit or debit card within the past 90 days.
    – If the gift giver still has the original receipt for the item, they have the ability to reprint a gift receipt at the Guest Service desk next time they visit Target.” “I’m sorry if you feel our last e-mail reply wasn’t satisfactory, but we aren’t able to further assist you with your return. “


  54. taylorlightfoot says:


    Actually you should call guest service if you want to check an item, or electronics. If you call food avenue or starbucks they are going to hang up on you or transfer you back to the operator. Its not their job to do merchandise locates, they prepare food.

    – Also worth noting, Targets merchandise locate is only accurate as of 8 am each day. Newer targets have updated inventory scanners that can do merchandise locate as well, but again they are only accurate as of 8am.

    -The operator told this lady that they were out of the glove because she was using one of the older inventory scanners. With the older ones it can check the back room to see if we have an item but it cannot verify if the item is out in the store on the shelf. To do that you need to have someone go and physically check.