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Two Superstores, One Winner: Target or Walmart?

Our second Brand Prix project looks into the overall customer experience the two retail mega-giants supply to their clients

Rebecca Wojno
March 07 2018

That good ol’ time of the day. It’s just you and a cup of hot coffee. The kids are asleep and you’re free to open your laptop. Ah, the joy of online shopping. Whether you want to refresh your bacon scented pillow supply, buy more bottles of butter flavored olive oil, that new state of the art pet stroller, or a miniature picnic table thingy for your condiments, by all means, fill up your cart.

Introduction

In this series, PostFunnel will follow two competing brands to assess their customer marketing performance. For each case study, we’ll enact a customer journey with the respective brands, document every customer interaction sent to our testers, and share inputs and insights from our experience with the companies.

Methodology

This round, we gave our testers $500 to spend with the brand. Following the first Brand Prix, they engaged with the brand for roughly six weeks on a few different platforms. The PF editorial team then graded the performance based on personalization, strategy, user experience, and overall engagement on all life cycle stages. We based our analysis on metrics that speak to the data-driven marketer, moved beyond traditional tactics, and instead, approached the shopping experience from the marketer’s POV. We graded the companies on each life cycle stage out of 10 possible points, with an average final score.

The Companies

To mark our second Prix, we compared two ‘household’ names in discount retailers:

Target is the second largest discount retailer in the United States. Here, you’ll find clothing, outdoor furniture/tools, children’s toys, electronics, home décor, and more.

This American retailer corporation sells everything from produce, electronics, clothing, gardening supplies, etc. Walmart’s promise? Everyday low prices.

Let the best retainer win!

Part 1: Roll Out the Welcome Wagon

* To kickstart, we scrolled through Target’s site and checked out the kitchen, home design, and women’s clothing categories. We logged onto the site and added some items into our shopping cart. After giving our email address, we received a few general emails, which were unrelated to the products we had browsed or added to our cart. We continued virtually sifting through the categories and added a cardigan plus other items to our shopping basket.

One day later, we saw a Facebook ad for a Target item we added to our basket, but no more than that.

* As our first action, we browsed Walmart’s page and surfed around their website. We opted out of registering for an account and opened a product page for men’s boots.

We googled, “Walmart.com return policy” and immediately found all of the information we needed at the top of the page. Before closing our browser, we also saw a link to the same boots we checked out on the site on a sponsored ad at the bottom of a different website article. In the following hours, we noticed product-specific banner ads on other sites, but didn’t get any personal outreach about purchasing and didn’t sense any real encouragement from the brand to place our first order.

The following day, we went back to Walmart’s website and clicked on fishing and outdoors gear, electronics, and a blender. We also paid a visit to a few social networks and saw zero Walmart ads.

* A few days after our first Target visit, we continued to see some general emails, unrelated to the products we had browsed. It’s important to note that we didn’t find the design appealing whatsoever. It looked very simple and old fashioned. At no point did Target make an effort to really push us towards the first purchase.

* Several days post our initial Walmart’s visit, we continued browsing home appliances and outdoor equipment and registered for an account. Walmart gave us the option to stay logged in and receive emails, so we opted in for both. We also received an offer for a credit card which we did not pursue.

Visitor Stage Score: Target 6/10, Walmart 6.5/10

Part 2: Hi There, New Customer

* A few days after first logging in, we opened an account with Target and received a welcome email.

We returned the following day to place our order, two non-stick pans for $196.00. As a nice surprise, Target offered a 20% off coupon for either online or in store use.

* After creating an account, Walmart sent a personalized recommendation email for an alternative to the fishing rod we had previously examined.

During the same visit, we made our first purchase; a blender for $125. Immediately, Walmart sent a personalized confirmation email.

* Post order, we also began receiving several email communications from Target advertising sales on women’s footwear, children’s toys, video games, and a generic ‘BIG Brand’ sale. This would have been a great opportunity to suggest more home décor/kitchenware, and refine their selections for us, but they stuck to generalized communications. The delivery notifications, receipts, and order confirmations seemed more geared towards our customer persona, but the rest of the emails felt too automated. Most of them were unrelated to our activities.

Although Target offered free delivery, we received our package one day after the expected delivery date and didn’t receive any notice about the delay. Not a crucial misstep, but we certainly would have appreciated an update. We did, however, receive an order confirmation email thanking us for our purchase.

* Within a week of our first purchase from Walmart, we received three promotional emails. Some were based on our activity, but most felt part of larger campaigns that had little to do with our browsing patterns, and we were not motivated enough to make our second purchase.

Following the communications blitz, Walmart sent an email about a price drop on an item we’d already bought without directions on how to proceed if we’d already purchased the item. It wasn’t clear whether we could exchange the item or get a refund for the price difference. The oversight felt strange.

* The week after our first purchase, Target sent additional impersonalized emails advertising electronics sales, clothing, kid’s toys, and shoes. One day apart, we received the same exact email about a LEGO sale. Not only did we not check out the toys category (making this email irrelevant), but sending the same communication twice feels like a major slipup on their end.

Within a week, we received four emails: two of the same emails asking us to check out their 30% off all clothing sale and two for an electronics holiday gift guide promotion, all back to back. Target loses major points with this one. Receiving the same email twice is probably incentive enough for many consumers to click the unsubscribe option.

One bright spot in their strategy was sending us a $20 off for every $100 we spent.

New Customer Stage Score: Target 5.5/10, Walmart 6/10

Part 3: Dear John

* To solidify our status as an active customer, we made our second purchase at Target roughly four weeks after our first: a hand blender, a comforter set, and a stockpot totaling $208.00. We used the offered discount and received $40 off of the original price.

After completing our purchase, Target sent us a “How was your experience” survey and asked us how likely we would recommend the superstore to a family member or friend. The survey was clear, to the point, and user friendly.

* We ordered a set of pots and pans from Walmart and received another confirmation email, as well as a generic push notification for new deals. This time, we were targeted with Walmart ads and sent a push notification containing shipping information.

* In the following days, Target sent us several emails announcing deals for tech products and kitchenware, as well as two notifications that our items had shipped.

Nearly a week later, Target sent us an opportunity to earn a $10 gift card for every $50 spent, 20% off toys, and free shipping if we completed orders before the five days were up. This was followed by several additional promotional emails on home accessories and appliances, tech, and clothing, as well as two emails that contained return labels.

* Trying to entice us into another purchase, Walmart sent several tech and electronics promotional emails as well as an email communication announcing a price reduction on an item we’d preciously examined.

We made our third purchase through the Walmart app. During this same visit, we also added two more items to our cart, but closed our browser window before completing the order.

The next day, we logged back on and found that our two items were still in the cart. We also found that we were automatically signed back in when we visited the website directly. We went ahead and ordered the two remaining items and were sent a confirmation email.

Following our purchase, Walmart sent us an email and push notification informing us that our purchases had shipped. As we received both communications at the same time, this seemed disorganized and redundant.

After several additional emails from Walmart, the brand experienced their first major snafu: The first item was undeliverable to the apartment, so it was shipped back to Walmart. Unfortunately, Walmart themselves failed to notify us that the package would not be delivered to our address. We chatted with their online help chat service, and although they were friendly and attentive, they would not ship our package back, because at this point, our items were no longer in stock, and they were unable to send our original package. We asked for a refund. After the blooper, Walmart sent us a survey asking how they did.

Active Customer Stage Score: Target 6.5/10, Walmart 6.5/10

Part 4: The Checkered Flag

After six weeks of communicating with the brands, and two new office blenders, we could conclude our scoring. Our testers went over the transactions they received from both companies and joined our marketing experts to try to understand and evaluate the brand’s marketing agenda. We came up with this infographic (note that some of the transactions appear in more than one category):

Like in our first Brand Prix, Adidas vs Nike, we saw two different approaches: It seemed like Target decided to entice their customers with real money offers, which is nice, but certainly not the only way to encourage customers to come back and buy. But sending out irrelevant, poorly personalized, identical emails, without using smart multi-channel communication techniques, is not something to be proud of. The nice survey they sent us was the only example of a proper retention tactic.

Walmart communicated better with their customers. The emails and push notifications were way more personalized then Target’s, and the overall use of multi-channel felt more strategic. Walmart’s path to victory, however, was filled with bumps, from the strange email about the discount and the unfortunate delivery mishap, to the fact that Walmart missed several opportunities to lure us into another buy. That’s why, although they are the winners here, we wouldn’t hurry with the congratulations messages. Both companies have a lot to improve.

How do you feel about our grading? Should have we crowned a different winner? Join the discussion on Twitter or Facebook by using the #BrandPrix hashtag.

Stay tuned for our next Brand-Prix tête-à-tête in the upcoming weeks!

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