Target’s taken some knocks for its technology missteps, from the crash of its Web site during the Missoni for Target launch in 2011 to the site’s lack of adequate capacity in April when Lilly Pulitzer for Target was released. And problems again surfaced on Cyber Monday in November, when customers were put in a queue and asked to check back later.

That may be why a large delegation of Target executives, led by chairman and chief executive officer Brian Cornell, attended the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“Each year, Target brings teams from across merchandising, marketing, innovation and technology to CES to see what’s hot for the upcoming year,” Cornell said. “I wanted to personally attend this year to take a look at new technologies through the lens of how they are poised to impact our guests. It’s a great opportunity to get a glimpse into what innovations and technologies are on the horizon.

“This year’s CES felt bigger than ever and continues to underscore the importance that technology plays in every aspect of our business,” Cornell added. “As a retailer, we’re interested in everything from the latest gadgets from companies large and small to emerging technologies and start-up innovations.”

Cornell said he was impressed by Samsung. “They’re driving incredible innovation across multiple categories, appliances, refrigerators, watches, speakers, phones, TVs and even air vents. They’ll be introducing some really terrific products in the near future and I look forward to seeing consumer response to these new technologies.”

While the exact number of Target attendees at CES was not disclosed, Jenna Reck, a team member, said, “We send a pretty large group. It’s our technology team and innovation team, half from San Francisco and half out of Minneapolis.” There were also executives from media and guest engagement, hardlines and Target+ Techstars Retail Accelerator.

Keith Colbourn, senior vice president of loyalty and life-cycle marketing, said, “What struck me most is how many similar devices we saw throughout the conference floor, a proliferation of smartwatches, fitness trackers, VR headsets and home security and automation. There are clear trends emerging that are accelerating with consumers.” 

“I saw 50 wearables,” Reck said. “The explosion of options has been really appealing. Because they’ve gotten so popular, you can have a wearable at the pure fitness level. A lot more wearables are designed to look like fashion pieces and targeted to a different demographic. Some are targeted to watches. We’re seeing a lot more integration. It’s the connections that will add value to a guest’s life.”

Target was on the lookout for products for its connected home store — Target Open House — in San Francisco, which displays and sells IoT technology. “We’re looking at connecting the dots” at the Open House, Reck said. “We’re starting to make changes based on what we’re hearing from guests or companies. We’re bringing new products in and taking some out as well. Some are clear top performers and others weren’t doing so well.”

The Tile app, a small square that can find keys, phones, glasses, luggage and more, is consistently the top seller in the Open House. “It’s small and it solves a real world problem,” Reck said. “It’s a little locator. Because it’s one of the least expensive products we have, it’s an easy first experience for people to have” with the IoT.

“One thing I learned at CES was how critical global infrastructure investments will be to determining the rate of adoption and innovation in IoT,” said Casey Carl, Target’s chief strategy and innovation officer.

“A lot of different companies are trying to figure out what a connective in store experience would look like,” Reck said. “In terms of a fully dedicated retail space, Target stands on its own” with the Open House.

Sears has gone a different route, opening Connected Solutions IoT concept shops inside Sears units in San Bruno, Calif., and the Chicago area. Sears has said it plans to roll out the concept to hundreds of stores. Target indicated that it’s in no hurry to bring Open House departments to stores.

“The next phase is where people are going to see how the products are coming together,” Reck said of IoT. “We’re showcasing a couple of different platforms. The platforms are how we create the scenarios, such as when you walk into the nursery, a sensor recognizes that your baby has woken up, which triggers the coffee pot in the kitchen to start brewing a pot of coffee.”

Target’s Open House has dedicated space for showcasing Indiegogo, a crowdfunding platform, and the products that are on the site. “We’re now one of the only places where you can see, touch and feel some of these crowdfunded products,” Reck said.

Other Target members saw personalized 3-D-printed headphones, and health and wellness products with personal diagnostics as the acceleration of customization and personalization in the world of technology.

“Technology touches every part of Target’s business,” Reck said. “We’re finding products that add value to a guest’s life by saving time, saving money, saving energy or providing more data.”

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