Q&A: Target's chief merchandising officer talks holiday trends

Mark Tritton shares how he plans to drive Target's traffic in food

Target is hoping to have a bright holiday by emphasizing low prices as well as highlighting private-brand clothes and home goods and splurges for the season.

It's the first holiday season at Target for Mark Tritton. He became chief merchandising officer, meaning he's in charge of what's on the shelves, in June after joining the discount retailer from Nordstrom.

Target struggled over the summer, in part by not focusing on the second part of its ``Expect More, Pay Less'' slogan. But business improved in the third quarter and Target raised its outlook for a key sales figure for the holiday period. The Minneapolis-based retailer is counting on drawing customers with the seasonal Wondershop, in addition to its hot children's clothing brand Cat & Jack and a kid's home collection called Pillowfort. In food and beverage, it's doubling its assortment of craft beer from last year. With most of the holiday merchandise ordered before he came to Target, Tritton has been involved in putting together how the discounter markets its products and prices them.

Tritton, known for his success with Nordstrom's private labels, talked with The Associated Press about the holiday season. His answers were edited for length.

Q: How did you parlay your experience at Nordstrom to Target?

A: We're finding common ground in that it's about brands. It's about gifts. It's about putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. What's different is our guests. And so I've been fortunate to have great experiences to get to know our guests and to find out more about them by diving into the extensive data about what we have about them ... down to having real experiences with guests. (In Chicago), I got to go to homes and talk to families and play board games with kids to understand what the joy of games was.

Q: What are the big holiday trends?

A: All times you have that great affordability and great value. But there is a little bit of glitz, from the sequined dresses to the gold silver trims in the home decorations. We're really excited about extending our franchise in ``Star Wars.'' I really love the work we are doing with Our Generation (collectible) dolls. We are seeing games continuing. I like the fact that traditional toys and new technology are in the mix.

Q. What has been your influence this holiday season?

A: Kudos to the team. They're the ones who put together a fantastic holiday period. What I've done is come in as a sort of architect of the total Target point of view and say, how can we streamline how we communicate great products and our great value to our guests in a more meaningful way? What do we really want to amplify and share with joy?

Q: Has the politically divisive environment affected shoppers' behaviour?

A: We haven't seen any discernable trend. I think regardless of the political environment, guests have the regular beat in their lives.

Q: What's one thing you're doing to drive traffic in food?

A: We're doing more sampling (of food). It creates a high level of engagement.

Q: What makes you confident about holiday shopping?

A: I think the assortment is really spectacular. I really love what we've done for our marketing campaign. I feel good about our in-stock position. And Wondershop is off to a fantastic start.

Q. How do you get inspired?

A: I read a ton of websites. I shop a ton of websites to look at what's going on. I'm a magazine junkie on the weekend. I have a passion for product and a passion for information. I travel a lot. I get stimulated a lot by competitors whether I am in New York, or L.A. or Chicago or London. I keep that juice in my engine at all times.

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