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The retailer Target is down, but certainly not out. Like many retailers it was hammered by the recession, and suffered a one-two punch with its entrance into the Canadian market. Not only did it lose substantial market-share during the recession, it also badly misread the Canadian market and pulling up stakes after only a few short years. Rather than take the beating and die a slow death, Target is doing some serious introspection and is finding its footing so it can not only reclaim its lost market share, but also come out stronger and ahead of its competitors.

Such organizational aspirations require more than a refresher of the company logo or tagline; it requires a deep understanding of its customer and then curating its inventory to meet the consumer’s demands. Under the best circumstances this is no easy task, given today’s fickle consumer, but Target is banking its comeback on kids by completely re-vamping its clothing and accessories lines tailored to ages 0-13. The interesting part of this focus is that this segment has been historically successful for Target and is a given. Ignoring the advice, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the new executive team believes that even more juice can be squeezed from the lemon, and they are investing a lot of time, money, and resources into this category in hopes of it paying big dividends.

We think Target will be successful. Why? Because the company understands the value of qualitative research and has been conducting focus groups with kids aged between 4-12 to see what they’re inspired by, and with parents to see what they’ll actually break out their wallets for. All of the rich data generated by these focus groups have helped Target’s design teams reimagine and recreate an already successful category.

As a result of getting feedback from kids and parents the new line of kids clothing that Target recently premiered, Cat & Jack, was created and designed based on the discoveries of these focus groups. Target executives knew that it couldn’t expect to revamp an already popular segment without first doing a lot of research. The company engaged in research that was targeted (pardon the pun), professionally managed, and included focus groups—lots and lots of focus groups.

Based on our own experience, we have seen first-hand how companies benefit when they wisely invest their dollars into research that is qualitative, not just quantitative. Outsourcing qualitative research is important because there are a number of “blind spots” that are not easy to overcome when managed internally.

While the numbers are slowly rolling in for Target after launching its re-imagined and freshened up core segments, we fully expect its efforts will pay off. By spending its dollars gathering qualitative data, directly from its core customer base, and incorporating those discoveries into its product offering and design, it won’t be long before Target is once again the darling of the big-box retailing industry.

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