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Target Express, Lincoln Park, Chicago

Love Target. TargetExpress? Meh.

Excerpt: Where I visit the newly-opened TargetExpress in my neighborhood and put on my mystery shopper hat to review what this particular urban convenience store feels like to me, as a consumer. 

I was quite excited when I learned that a new TargetExpress (they spell it in one word) was opening soon, walking distance from our home. It would be a fun and refreshing – and perhaps cheaper? – alternative to my local Walgreens or CVS which I only visit by dis-ease-incited obligation.

I love Target. Find me someone who doesn’t love Target.

The Expectations

This new TargetExpress in Lincoln Park, Chicago has been opened for a couple of weeks by the time I visit. As the Express name implies, I’m expecting a mini-version of the two-level Target stores that I am used to in the city. The Express store will have all the basics, right? Yeah, a Target that will be easier and faster to navigate. 

The Experience

Target Express mini carts onlyThe shopping carts are the first thing I notice. They are the small two-tiered basket carts which immediately indicate that this ain’t Costco and I’m not about to get any 12-pack of paper towels from this store. The scale of the cart is certainly a cue to let me know how much I’m meant to shop for here: small quantities in this smaller scale store (about 15% the size of a regular Target store). That’s ok, because I need to walk back home with my loot as, I assume, do most of this store’s customers. 

A step into the store walks me right into the Starbucks area. I’m used to seeing a Starbucks in my local Target store by now but I know that there is also a Freshii restaurant with seating at the other end of this store. Isn’t that a lot of food service for such a small store? Since this is clearly not a shop-and-linger place, I’m wondering what need these restaurants are trying to fill. It’s not as if the neighborhood is lacking in restaurant options…

The layout is perplexing. In just a few steps, I move from the home, to the fashion, to the food “departments”. So the result is that the bananas are facing the denim rack, shoes and boots are a step away from the vino and I’m at an arm’s length from grabbing the Tostitos while shopping for men’s apparel. I get that this is a small Target and that there’s no room for transition here. But it feels weird.

Taking a further look at the merchandise selection, I wonder exactly who the store is catering to. There is a good-sized  food section with some fresh produce, dairy and meats though nary an organic product in sight in the fresh section on the day of my visit. The next two aisles of food included the usual snacks and pantry staples. The occasional organic choices are thrown into the mix here. Oh, and there’s lots and lots of booze.

I read this about TargetExpress stores:

Each TargetExpress store is decorated and stocked to match its neighborhood…. Since the stores are about 15% the size of a regular Target, management needs to prioritize their product offerings. College-area Target stores won’t stock baby formula and toys but Express stores in certain neighborhoods will load up on kosher offerings, cater to business people’s needs or have large yoga displays. (Source)

If TargetExpress is meant to reflect the neighborhood it inhabits, it doesn’t look like this store got to know its neighbors before moving in. There’s a whole wall of cliché Cubs and Chicago paraphernalia which suggests that this is a “tourist spot”. Not quite. Lincoln Park is home to a many professionals, young couples and families (Source). Like those who prefer buying fresh organic food…

The store has all the mandatory though diminutive “departments”, offering a reduced variety in each product category. A consumer would hope that this product edit is based on customer preference. Hummmm. 


I needed kitchen trash bags. I guess that the offering as shown in the picture at right is adequate for a convenience store. Still, I didn’t trash bags at Target Expressfind my usual brand and had to, after some hem and hawing, compromise with the Target house brand. My feeling is that it’s not convenience anymore if I need to spend any time at all thinking about having to substitute an unknown product for the one I’m used to. It’s not a grab-and-go scenario anymore. But, these are just trash bags, so I’m sure I’ll be fine. 

Interestingly, the tech-electronics section seems to be substantial, at least in comparison to the other departments. I was looking for a wireless computer mouse and thought that this new Target would offer me the best choice in the neighborhood to replace the one that broke that morning. There were two almost identical models and a grand total of three units in stock. This seemed low compared to the ample selection of earphones, headphones and speakers available in tech related accessories. The Target clerk (uncharacteristically wearing a black t-shirt in this department) explained that there was little selection because “this is an Express store”. Excuse or justification? In any case, I felt like I had to compromise again with my selection of this computer mouse.

mice not mousesFun note: the aisle sign indicated “mice”. The debate is over. I know that you always wondered if, in the case of the mouse, i.e. the electronic item, we would be calling two or more of them “mouses”. I guess this has been settled since it’s now in print. Also, do three “mice” deserve their own aisle sign?

I’m looking at the shoppers in the store. It’s a good cross-section of gender and age. Interestingly, there is a concentration of customers in the small apparel section. Hummm. It’s true that there is not much of this type of offering in this neighborhood. Maybe that’s why the racks are nearly empty? Actually, the shelves and racks are “light” everywhere. Few quantities of any given item (see the L’Oreal products in photo below. One of each!). I don’t think that it’s because things are selling out.

Convenience store pricing

Let’s talk pricing. Target knows that people comparison-shop on their phones. So why do the irksome overpricing, especially compared to their own online pricing? For example, this 25.4 oz bottle of L’Oréal Total Repair 5 Restoring Shampoo at $7.19 in this Express store while it’s $5.99 at If I wanted those prices, I’d shop at Walgreens. This is “convenience store pricing “and it makes me feel like I’ve been duped. And, it goes against Target’s own “More for your Money” proclamation. It breaks my trust. 

Target Express pricing

My bottom line

I ask myself if I would ever return to this store. Or, the larger question, why does this store even exist? What market need is it filling? A quick mental scan of the neighborhood points to a slew of competitors: Several Walgreens and CVS as the reflex reference for this type of convenience store, but I can also point to nearby TJ Maxx, Bed Bath & Beyond for home goods and then, Trader Joe’s, Walmart Neighborhood Market and the soon-to-open Mariano’s in the grocery category. All within walking distance. So why open a TargetExpress convenience store here? Maybe the company detected holes in the market that I didn’t recognize as a consumer.

More likely, Target Corporation needs to grow its presence and its numbers and of course, this:

In order for Target to compete with Amazon, it needs to be faster and more convenient. The only way that Target can do this is to have the products that the customers want in an easy-to-access location. This is the idea behind TargetExpress. (Source)

Public companies answer to their investors. However, when I’m shopping for basic household goods, I’m not concerned about Target’s stock price. My customer experience is what counts and here’s my bottom line: the store has the limited product selection of a convenience store. Strike one. It also has the unfortunate high pricing of a convenience store. Strike 2. Add to that a mix of fashion, accessories and home goods that appear to be incongruous in this setting. There’s simply not enough selection to make it shoppable or compelling. Strike three.

As much as I love Target, I probably won’t be returning to this store. I can’t trust the pricing or that I will find what I need. Or even experience the fun and discovery that is shopping at Target. For boring convenience shopping, I have so many other choices. 

Maybe this?

But here’s what I think would make this store fun and worth the detour: Theme it. For example:

  • Make it a tech & electronics specialty Target. I heard this location used to house a Best Buy. Target can certainly do better than Best Buy at offering the latest tech gadgets.
  • Make it a style specialty destination: all things fashion and home. Isn’t that every shopper’s favorite part of shopping Target? I’d get inspiration for the quirky Danish Tiger stores
  • Make it a specialty food Target: get your pint of milk, organic tomatoes and try some black garlic too.
  • Make it a Target “dollar store”. We know how popular that “dollar” section is at Target. Imagine the whole store of that. Have you been to the Canadian Dollarama dollar stores? People of all economic means love shopping there to get deals and uncover inexpensive and fun finds. Same with Hollar who is doing very well with the five & dime thing online.

In this market where the consumer is hyper perspicacious, I don’t believe you can get away with being just another convenience store, even if one carries the Target name. Target is venerated for being an innovative retailer. I’m not seeing it in this latest store edition.



August 25, 2016
Sameness Fatigue


  • Dana H

    Thank you as your detailed review saves me a trip to this Target Express! I visited the previous tenant in this location, a mini Best Buy, and found the store itself to be disorienting. The place is not physically large yet you’d get lost in it, and once you finally found a section (eg, batteries for my digital camera’s flash, it seemed as if they had two items and one of the two was out of stock. The item in stock was 40% more than its online counterpart.

    Either the space itself is not really a rectangle or square, or Target needs to hire someone to fix their feng shui problem. From your review where bananas are on the same sight line as blue jeans, it sounds as if the store layout confused the Target folks too.

    September 20, 2016

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