Target vs Target.com vs Target App (Is there a Difference)?

Target - an online and brick and mortar store.

I admit that my shopping habits have been fairly consistent. Costco for my a majority of the cook-at-home food. If there's a special recipe that requires small quantities of ingredients, I go to Safeway or Trader Joe's. Amazon.com for odds and ends around that house for DIY projects and chores. And either Home Depot or Lowes for major DIY project needs like power tools. If the prices are better, I will occasionally make a purchase at Target.com. But since I purchased a $200 gift card online a couple years ago, I've been stopping by the physical Target store brick and mortar (B&M) more often, usually if it's in the same plaza as an earlier stop. And though I'm fairly technologically savvy, I seem to struggle at every visit.

#1 Complaint: Check Out with Gift Card on Target App

Trying to pay with a gift card that's linked to my Target app is the primary reason why I never make Target my first stop. Something always seems to go wrong. Whether I self check out or check out with a cashier, the process Target created for paying with a gift card makes NO SENSE. If I've loaded a gift card into my Target app, I don't understand why I need to manually select it for payment during each visit! It should work like Amazon.com and default to your gift card. If for whatever reason I want to switch to a separate payment, then I can manually remove the gift card before paying.

In any event, this always causes a big problem because if I forget to attach the gift card before paying with the Target app, the cashier (or me if I'm self checking out) will have to rescan everything from scratch! This not only holds up the line, but also probably pisses off everyone waiting in line behind me.

#2 Complaint: Prices on Target.com (or App) Can Be Cheaper than In Store

My second complaint I recently noticed is that the price of the item in store might actually be higher in store than it is listed online. Just recently, I was looking for a Tilex Mildew and Mold and found the price at Target for $3.99, where Amazon had it listed for $10 for 2 bottles of the same size. At that time, I could have bought it online and chose in-store pickup, but that would force me to work around their schedule (usually ready for pickup the next day after ordering when the countdown for 3 days begins).

So the first weekend arrives and I happen to pass by a physical Target store. Figure I would drop by and just buy my product. To my surprise, the exact same bottle was listed around $4.70. I figure I would pay the extra 70 cents and be on my way, but was also curious why there was a price difference. My wife decides to ask our cashier who then said they can honor the Target.com price by manually overriding the cashier.

I appreciate that Target price matches. But find it odd I'm price matching against their own site. It would also be extremely unrealistic if I picked up a cart full of items to keep a ongoing tally of the product prices in-store vs online. And who knows, maybe prices in-store are sometimes lower than Target.com (online)?

#3 Prices on Target.com Increase as you Approach a Physical Store

I haven't noticed this myself, but a recent report on Feb 7, 2019 from KARE 11 is more disturbing that price differences online vs in-store. But their report shows prices of some items will actually increase in the online app as the app detects (via GPS) that you're approaching a physical Target store. According to the article:

"An Apple Watch band went up $2, a Shark vacuum went up $40, a Graco child car seat jumped $72 and a Dyson vacuum shot up $148 on the app while inside the store."  -KARE 11 Investigation

Theoretically, this would make price-matching at Target against Target.com more difficult. Your best bet is to use Target.com on your phone's browser and make no to share your location with Target.com. Your safest bet is to print out all your purchases before heading to Target, but that's completely unrealistic.

My Takeaway from Target, Target.com, Target App

All in all, what I take away from this experience is that Target is becoming more technologically savvy by analyzing sales data to determine which physical stores can "afford" to pay more. By squeezing every last dollar out of a purchase, they can increase their revenue. I admit I don't have solid evidence, but I suspect that if Target believes the local shoppers at a physical store can afford to pay more, why not mark it up? The same works vice versa for lowering prices.

So after my recent experiences, my future strategy with purchasing from Target in the following order is to:

  1. Make the purchase on Target.com or the Target App. If I happen to hit their minimum order of $35 to ship, then I'll just have them ship it. It will save me time and gas money too!
  2. If I don't hit the minimum order of $35 to ship, then I'll select in-store pickup. This way, I can avoid making any spur of the moment purchases and save time wandering the aisles. A Target employee can pickup stuff for me.

It also makes me wonder if other retailers with both physical and an online presence attempt the same sales tactics. To be fair, it may believable that Amazon could potential show difference prices for the same product to different people based on their historic buying habits.

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