Saturday, February 07, 2015

Bullseye: Walking Dead in the Wake of Retail Failure

The tramp stamp of the retail world.
It was with a perverted sort of curiosity that I wandered into the nearest Target this past Thursday.  After just two agonizing years attempting to expand its financial reach into the Great White North, the retail giant is heading back to the good ol' US of A with its tail tucked firmly between its legs and short one overpaid CEO.  It was all eerily familiar, what with Canadian retail staple Zellers closing its doors just before Target moved into the neighbourhood.  In fact, Target bought up many of Zellers' previous locations when they advanced their troops northwards, so for many outposts, this would mark the second time that their regiment had abandoned them in the face of an insurmountable enemy.  Historically speaking, this is what you would call "the old one-two."

All of the vultures had been circling for sometime by the time word finally came down the ranks this week: Store closing. Liquidation.  Everything must go.  Dutifully, I took my place among the flock, and swooped in as much for the potential deals as for my own morbid fascination with the death of this retail god and the fate of all of his acolytes.  I typically try to avoid making eye contact with sales associates in any store, as I prefer to shop freestyle, but this time was different.  I tried to drink in as much as I could, tried to read what was going on behind the dead eyes of these walking damned roaming the store, answering questions from all the squawkers about price reductions while facing the liquidation of their own future.

As I wormed way through that bloating corpse, sniffing my way along with all of the other parasites, I could find no trace of human tragedy in the traditional sense.  Instead what I discovered was a sense of deflation, an empty balloon, a windless sail, a limp cock.  There was sadness, to be sure, for the seventeen thousand six hundred or so disciples who would, in due time, be sent back out into the trenches in search of some new deity and a new source of sustenance.  But there was no tragedy in the story of the Fallen Titan, for he had failed to reach any real heights to begin with.  He had not fallen from grace; he had fallen back on the couch, drunk, and pissed his pants.  It wasn't tragic; it was pathetic.

Target left Canada as it came: with a whimper and terrible tide of disappointment.  Here, on the eve of annihilation, I wandered through the aisles, past half-empty shelves soiled by stickers indicating surprisingly terrible prices on a poor selection of wares.  Sadly, it was almost exactly like every other single goddamned time I'd ventured into Target, hoping against hope that this time, this time it would be "worth it."  This wasn't a failure worthy of song.  It wasn't even worthy of some random scribbling on the wall of a bathroom stall with a phone number to call for anyone interested in "a good time."   At least they got rid of the weird raw sewage smell that seemed to plague their stores when they first opened.  That's something, anyway.

I had no particular feelings about Target before it showed up one morning on my doorstep like some eager Jehovah's Witness offering a counterpoint to another retail deity, the almighty Walmart.  I'm not a particular fan of Walmart either, what with the shady business practices exploiting and laying waste to suppliers both foreign and domestic, the ongoing humans rights violations related to its draconian and total suppression of even the hint of unionization by its employees, and the devastation it can cause to independent businesses and the possible residual devastation to the communities in which they are situated. But at least they carry a variety (if slowly dwindling) of goods at a lower price.  There is a trade-off.  If we're going to support the systematic exploitation of a large subset of the world's population, at least we can get a decent discount on the shit we buy.  
The lowest price isn't the law.  I am the law.

Target didn't even have that, at least not at the three (!) locations that were within convenient driving distance of me and my family.  Tales of competitive pricing from our friends south of the border had worked us into a feeding frenzy, but when schools of us icy piranha shoved our way past each other on that first day, our fists full of cash, just begging for somebody to take it from us, we were stopped in our tracks.  Instead of the promised land we were greeted with some strange consumer purgatory.  Skeletal shelves half-filled and prices that did absolutely nothing to entice customers from their biggest competitor, and were, in my experience, typically higher than Walmart.  We were hoping for some epic battle between these two Titans, but instead they mostly ignored each other like two sixth-graders attending their first grade school dance together.  Blue on one side of the gym, red on the other.

As a collector in particular of Blu-Ray and DVD, the electronics section was what I paid the most attention to, and it was disappointing at best and insulting at worst.  Even Walmart's now incredibly scaled back digital media selection is like a fucking desert oasis compared to the barren wasteland over at Target.  Eight to ten years ago, I would go to Walmart with the same anticipation I would go to (the now defunct) CD Plus or Future Shop and not be disappointed.  They've fallen a long way, but it's still nothing compared to Target's sickly selection of overpriced movies and TV shows.  Never once did I see one of the much talked about Target-exclusive steelbooks or special editions.  Even Walmart carries a couple steelbooks and the occasional digibook or Criterion.

But there's no chance now for redemption in any sense, at least not in Canadian markets. I remember hearing on the radio that there would be a void left by Target in the charitable donation market, as--like Walmart--it donated to several local charities.  Which, at first blush seems like a reasonable concern; here was this Leader of Industry, giving back to the communities in which it deemed worthy to set up shop.  Only, you know what would be an even better way to give back to the community?  Pay your workers a goddamned living wage and appropriate benefits thereby alleviating the need for people to have to rely on charitable organizations to begin with.

Target never ran into the public quagmire that Walmart did when, in what seemed like a great public relations piece to some now-jobless marketing lackey undoubtedly enjoying an extended stay in a Turkish prison, it ran a food drive, asking its employees to donate generously, in order that they might distribute that food to... other Walmart employees.  (And again, apparently.)  But Target is part of the same self-perpetuating cycle of poverty and disempowerment that Walmart is.  Even though Target never had the embarrassingly conspicuous exposure of how truly despicably employees are regarded by giant retailers that Walmart did, it's not exactly like Target employees are making a mint or rolling around in piles of money doing blow out of hookers' assholes.

There's nothing more to be done about it now.  The die has been cast, the ruins plundered, the impotent Titan sent into a swift retreat to friendlier waters.  But there is no catharsis to this sad tale.  There is no deeper meaning to be gleaned, no moral less obvious than not letting your reach exceed your grasp or the door hit you on your way out.  Target will return to the Great Void out of which it materialized and leave nothing of substance or value in its wake.  A trip to the levee in one's Chevy would most likely find it as dry as any previous excursion.  And that's a far better epitaph than this miserable abomination deserves.



  1. This will be an interesting case studies for years to come in business courses. It really was a disappointment: we hear nothing but great stories from the US and it's just a generic store with all the same goods as others when it comes north. For movies, you're right: I never once saw a Target-exclusive disc here and while the shelves were clean and my budget itched to spend, it never found a deal worthwhile.