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Inside the Target downgrade

target new store concept

The investment world was rattled a few days ago when Wells Fargo downgraded the stock of the stumbling retail giant Target BB #:166987.

Analyst Edward Kelly foresaw a price drop of its stock to $142. (On the morning of January 11, it was at $157.78.)

The analyst pointed to a potential recession (something that has been mentioned so often that you wonder if the financial world wants it to happen) as one major cause, as well as poor returns (net income of $712 million, over a 50 percent drop from $1.49 billion).

Financial guru Jim Cramer also cited a surge in organized retail crime:  “The amount of stealing at Target Corporation is a little disconcerting.”

richard smoley produce blueprints

It makes me think of a Facebook exchange I had recently. A friend put up this joke:

“I was in a store and said I was looking for an iron. I went up to a clerk, who said, ‘I’ll see,’ and walked away.

“Then I went up to another clerk, who said, ‘I’ll see,’ and walked away.

“Then I found it on Aisle C.”

I couldn’t resist quipping, “If this was Target, they really did mean, ‘I’ll see.’”

If my local Target in Wheaton, IL, is any indication, Target is slipping because it has become lousy. The shelves are half-empty, and if you ask a clerk for something, she may not say “I’ll see” but will point vaguely to two or three shelves down the way.

In short, the store reeks of apathy. How to miss the Target – Produce Blue Book

My wife no longer shops there anymore.

It came as no surprise to see Target downgraded. Indeed, I wondered why it hadn’t happened earlier.

Analysts might have seen it coming earlier if they had visited some Target stores, although of course it is more comfortable to sit at your keyboard instead.

To go back to Cramer’s point, theft may be a problem because the number of clerks is so sparse and the ones who are working do not care enough to stop it.

Rather insultingly, Target’s self-checkout machines have a screen displaying your own lovely countenance staring back at you in a Big Brotherly way.

Which hardly seems intelligent, because if you’re stealing, you’re not going to bother to go through the self-checkout line.

Investment analysis aside, to me the most important point is that even in today’s climate, where cost-cutting has practically become an idol, customer service is not the place to do it.

I believe this is true for retail, for the produce industry, and for practically all others.

Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.