Target Canada had bare shelves—but overflowing warehouses

Everyone knew Target was struggling with its supply chains, but we never knew the full extent of the chaos until now

 
A former Target Canada loading dock
A former Target Canada loading dock. (Photograph by Johan Hallberg-Campbell)

One of the biggest problems of Target Canada’s early days, as recounted in Joe Castaldo’s major Canadian Business feature out today, “The Last Days of Target,” was the fact that its stores were poorly stocked—a problem that customers weren’t shy to complain about:

[I]t didn’t take long for consumers to start complaining on social media about empty shelves. “Target in Guelph, please stock up and fill the shelves,” wrote one aggrieved shopper on Facebook. “How can I or anyone purchase if there is nothing left for me to buy?” Target told the media that it was overwhelmed by demand and made assurances that it was improving the accuracy of product deliveries.

In media reports, the bare shelves became a near-constant trope, a stark illustration of the shortcomings that were causing consumers to sour on Target. It was well-known at the time that the company was struggling with its supply chain, but we now know that the problem wasn’t a lack of product in the pipeline—it was way too much:

Ironically, even as consumers encountered barely stocked stores, Target’s distribution centres were bursting with products. Target Canada had ordered way more stock than it could actually sell. The company had purchased a sophisticated forecasting and replenishment system […], but it wasn’t particularly useful at the outset, requiring years of historical data to actually provide meaningful sales forecasts. When the buying team was preparing for store openings, it instead relied on wildly optimistic projections developed at U.S. headquarters.

Products were flooding into Target’s warehouses, but a litany of software problems meant they weren’t getting to stores. Or they got there—but in such a haphazard way that head office couldn’t keep track of them:

These sorts of hang-ups happen at any warehouse, but at Target Canada, they happened with alarming frequency. Warehouse workers got so desperate to move shipments they would sometimes slice open a crate that was supposed to contain, say, a dozen boxes of paper towels but only had 10, stuff in two more boxes, tape it shut and send it to a store that way.

There’s a ton more in Joe’s feature about everything that went wrong at Target—and there’s a lot. Check it out in full here.

Photo of abandoned Target store with “This Is A Disaster” scrawled over it

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