Target’s New Site: Where’s The New?

Written by Frank Hayes and Evan Schuman
August 24th, 2011

After two years of development featuring more than 20 vendors, rolled out its first independent Web site in 10 years, after its split from Amazon. Although trumpeting advances in customization, merged channel and improved checkout, the site itself—and Target officials—shows no evidence of any functionality that differs from what other retail sites have offered for years.

The dream—and nightmare—of every E-Commerce head is to start over from scratch, scrap all the legacy kludges that developers have been working around for years and build a Web site that does exactly what the chain wants. Most retailers will never be able to cost-justify that greenfield approach, of course. Target’s site, however, had to be built from scratch because its decade-long deal with Amazon to operate its online business had expired.

Unfortunately, the new is all potential at its launch. Target doesn’t want to tip its hand about future plans and give competitors an advantage. But there are tantalizing hints of what’s baked into Target’s new architecture in some of features of the Web site that, frankly, don’t seem to make sense any other way.

(Frank Hayes column this week looks at how forgot about one group: It’s customers.

The site itself is certainly well-designed and attractive, but it also sports quite a few pages that glitched or included basic functionality that seems to not make sense. Google ads, for example, appear on some pages touting sales from Sears and JCPenney. A Target executive said allowing ads for key rivals was a business decision, implying that it was not an oversight, although no explanation was offered for the move. It seems unlikely that ad revenue from such small ads would be a reason for Target to allow them.

Another unusual element of the site—code-named Everest—is that it times out on customers who are inactive for more than 30 minutes, at which point it warns visitors that their sessions are about to be closed. Such a session approach is key to an aggressive personalization site strategy, but the warnings happen with visitors who have not signed in. For those visitors, the warning has no purpose because functionality doesn’t change, said Phil McKoy, VP Target Technology Services, who offered no reason why the warnings would even appear for consumers who are not signed in.

Any site this complex is guaranteed to have its share of minor glitches, and is no exception. Users complained that wedding registry editing didn’t work and that the site couldn’t track existing orders. That last problem is also troublesome.


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