The holiday season is everything in retail. It's by far the most important period of sales for every retailer. That's true if you're a small clothing boutique and especially true if you're Target or Amazon. Every retail business goes to great lengths to capitalize on the holidays, and every consumer is used to holiday sales that seem to start earlier and earlier every year. The goal is the same: to drive customers into a company's stores or onto its website and get them to spend.
Of course, handling all of that extra traffic means adding staff. Amazon announced this week that it plans to hire 30,000 for permanent positions, plus tens of thousands of seasonal workers for its warehouses and distribution centers. The company is even hosting a Career Day on September 17 at locations across the U.S.
Not to be outdone, Target just announced its plan to hire a staggering 130,000 seasonal team members to handle things like restocking and customer service at virtually all of its 1,800-plus stores, That's a hiring increase of 8 percent compared with last year, continuing the company's trend of growth.
The even bigger news is that the company plans to double the size of its online order and Drive Up staff, and is adding as many as 8,000 workers who handle those orders in its distribution centers. That may not seem like a big deal at first glance, but those two programs represent the best sign that Target's strategy to beat Amazon is starting to pay off.
Here's why this matters so much, and why it shows how Target might beat Amazon this holiday season.
Online order and Drive Up
Target can't compete with Amazon on the size and scale of its online store or delivery capabilities. It does, however, have something Amazon doesn't--a network of stores planted in every major suburban area in America. So, instead of placing an order online and waiting for it to ship to your home in a day or two (if you pay the $119 for Amazon Prime), you can simply pull into a Target store and they'll meet you at the curb with your order.
If that isn't convenient enough, the company offers its Shipt service (with a $99 annual membership), which will deliver your purchase to your home the same day. Target can do that because it has turned its stores into more than customer shopping experiences--it has made them part of its distribution network as well.
I've already written about how Target's partnership with Disney is a brilliant strategy for capitalizing on the two companies' shared audience. With 25 mini-Disney-stores-within-a-store opening next month, it's not hard to guess how Target is going to put a lot of those seasonal team members to work quickly. Does anyone really think that Target stores won't be full of parents looking for the newest Frozen 2 and Marvel toys this November?
Overall store experience
About those stores--not only are they Target's best weapon against Amazon, but the company has also been working on smaller-footprint stores in urban areas and on college campuses that put it even closer to its customers. Target is already seen as the "cool" retailer, and now it's focusing on becoming the most convenient option and best experience.
Providing that kind of experience isn't something that can be done in an app or on a website. It requires real people who interact with customers face-to-face. That's why those seasonal workers are so important as customers flood into stores looking for deals on toys, gadgets, and home furnishings.
This is how you win
Sometimes, it's tempting to bet big on something new when it comes to your biggest opportunity to reach your customers. That's natural, especially when there is so much upside.
But Target's strategy is more about leveraging what it already knows will work--getting people into its stores and creating a great experience. Even the Drive Up service, which doesn't require going inside, capitalizes on the brand familiarity and positive feelings people have about the stores.
Finally, there's another lesson here: Target is making plans for big things to come. The worst thing that can happen for a store like Target is for customers to come in and have a bad experience. Nothing is worse than empty shelves, dirty aisles, and long wait times when you've invited the world to come in and spend money.
If you're expecting your biggest shopping season ever, you should prepare for your biggest shopping season ever. Target clearly is.
Correction: An earlier version of this column mistakenly conflated Target's doubling its online order staff and adding workers in distribution centers. The two are wholly separate actions.