Target’s holiday plans and predictions: an interview with CEO Brian Cornell

October 22, 2014 - Article reads in
Target CEO Brian Cornell

In many ways, Brian Cornell’s holiday season began the second he assumed his new position as Target’s CEO back in August. Now things are about to get really interesting.  As the world prepares to celebrate—and shop—for the holidays, we wondered: What can we all expect? How will 2014 be different? Luckily Brian was willing to fill us in on all this and more—including the contents of his holiday shopping list.

It’s your first holiday season with Target. How do you temper the excitement and enthusiasm you must be feeling about the plans in place with whisperings of other retailers cutting their forecasts and the “bad season” projections we hear about in the media? In other words, how is Target going to differentiate itself this holiday season and what are your performance expectations?
The holiday season is always incredibly competitive and this year will be no different. I expect to see cautious consumers who are looking for great deals. My focus for Target is ensuring we are delivering fully on our brand promise of Expect More and Pay Less. That is when Target is at its best. When a guest discovers the perfect gift or décor item, falls in love with the quality and then realizes the price is surprisingly low. They will gasp and say ‘wow! I have to have that.’ My expectation is that we’ll deliver the ‘wow’ all season long.

We’re approaching the first anniversary of the data breach that, in part, defined Target’s holiday season last year. What steps are you taking as CEO to ensure this year’s holiday shoppers can feel confident shopping at Target?
Data security is a top priority from my desk to the team that is on the front lines at the stores. We have bolstered our efforts in three key areas—people, technology and enhancing our process. On the people front, we’ve added critical positions in the areas of Compliance and IT and brought on a proven leader in information security as our new CISO. We continue to invest heavily in top talent, as well as technical tools, and focus on continually evaluating and evolving our processes as the landscape changes.

I’m proud that all of our POS terminals have been updated and will begin accepting EMV cards early next year.  We are on track to roll out chip-and-pin technology to our REDcard guests in early 2015, six months ahead of schedule, which will be another important step forward.

The threat is a challenge, not just for retail, but for all industries and we are determined and committed to being an industry leader in this evolving space. At the same time, our own data shows that our guests have moved on and, as such, we’re approaching this holiday season ready to turn the page and focus on delivering for our guests.

Much of the planning for this year’s holiday season was likely well underway when you took over as CEO. How are you leaving your mark on this year’s strategy? What have you been focusing on?
The team had put a tremendous amount of time into planning the holiday season by the time I arrived in August. Since then we’ve been focused on delivering a great season that’s centered on giving our guests a convenient, easy and all around enjoyable shopping experience. With that in mind, we recently made the decision to offer free shipping throughout the season. It’s an easy way to eliminate one of the most common hurdles that’s associated with online shopping. No one likes being surprised with shipping charges when they go to check out, so a standing free shipping offer for the holidays just makes sense.

We’ve also recently decided to partner with STORY, a retailer that’s known for bringing an editorial lens to shopping. They curate new product stories in their Manhattan space every four to eight weeks, and for the holidays, Target product will be curated alongside other must-have gift items. It will allow Target to showcase our products in a new way and experiment a bit to understand how our guests react to seeing Target product in a different environment.

Target continues to be recognized as a leader in the mobile space. How important is mobile to Target’s holiday plans? What is Target doing to make shopping easier and more efficient for guests?
We know that 75 percent of our digital traffic will come from mobile by the holidays so it’s an incredibly important “front door” for Target.  We just relaunched our mobile and tablet apps so they now have enhanced tools that help guests browse, build lists and navigate the store. We’ve also streamlined the checkout process, so it’s quicker and easier.

Even more exciting is our Wish List app. It was designed with kids in mind and it truly blends the physical and digital by interacting with our popular toy catalog. I have watched kids explore it, and it’s incredible to see how much fun they have building a list of their top toys for Santa. It also makes life a little easier for parents who can secretly see, share and shop off of their kids’ wish lists whenever it’s convenient.

What’s on your wish list this season? Do you have any favorite items?
There are a million great finds across our merchandise assortment. Personally, I love our collection from Faribault Woolen Mill, which hails from a small Minnesota town. They’ve been making wool blankets since the Civil War and Target’s exclusive collection offers a print that was pulled directly from their archives. I’m facing my first Minnesota winter, so a wool scarf seems like a good bet.


Don’t miss out on the latest Target news and behind-the-scenes happenings! Subscribe to our newsletter and get the top stories from A Bullseye View delivered straight to your inbox!