Target Stumbles in Executing ‘Cartwheel’ on Facebook

Target’s new “Cartwheel” Facebook shopping app is a great concept – use the world’s most popular social media platform to help generate in-store traffic. But the execution is clunky. It kind of reminds me of the second “Star Wars” trilogy that came out around the turn of the millennium – the back story of Darth Vader was rich with potential, but George Lucas polluted a great dramatic story arc with floppy-eared aliens and lame attempts at political commentary.

There is nothing in Cartwheel anywhere near as atrocious as Jar Jar Binks, but Target fails to provide the kind of streamlined, personalized service that the social media-savvy consumers it is targeting have come to expect. After registering with the service through their Facebook account, users can search different product collections (grouped into categories such as “Mother’s Day” and “Fun in the Sun”) and make item selections. Customers then visit a local Target store to find and purchase the items, with the clerk scanning a barcode generated on their mobile phone to provide a discount that can range from 5%-30%.

Before pointing out where Target has gone wrong, I’d like to credit them for what they have done right. First, Target is recognizing that for many consumers, going online means logging into a social network, with Facebook still holding a commanding lead in social network popularity. Consumers use their social accounts as their online “homes,” and retailers who don’t reach out to them there are missing out on a huge opportunity to provide convenience and familiarity.

Second, Target is recognizing the omnichannel nature of modern retail. Consumers will browse items on a home PC, pull them up later on a mobile device, and use that device to aid a traditional in-store purchase. They do not recognize the existence of different “channels” in this process, and Target is smartly removing channel boundaries and providing a seamless, sequential experience that fits in with how 21st century consumers are living their lives.

And third, Cartwheel discounts can be used over and over in a given time period, which is sure to build consumer goodwill.

Okay, so where is Target missing the bullseye? Most critically, there does not appear to be any personalized targeting of discounts. On an opt-in basis, this type of service should really provide individualized product selections and promotions based on the customer’s omnichannel shopping and browsing history, rather than forcing customers to search through product collections with cutesy names for generic discounts.

In addition, customers are not really spared any of the hassles associated with traditional in-store shopping. They still have to go to the store, find everything, bring it to the register and have a clerk scan their mobile barcode. To really take advantage of social and mobile’s potential with this program, Target should let Cartwheel users find and reserve products in local stores, with a ship to store option for out-of-stock items, and then pay for them in advance and schedule a pickup at a convenient time.

As described by Target on the Cartwheel Facebook page, the app “keeps your discounts neatly organized, all ready for your next Target run. Cartwheel is a simpler, easier way to keep track of the offers you want most.” That’s all well and good, but with extra effort and vision, Cartwheel could be so much more.

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