The Ebenezer Scrooge of Retail

Target has implemented a nationwide policy to ban the Salvation Army bell ringers from the front of their stores. The cited reason: they found it inconvenient to not allow other charitable organizations to do similar fundraisers outside their stores.

That would never do; after all, one reminder to be kind to the unfortunate is bad enough, but two or three would be simply inexcusable. Why, people might be persuaded to give their money to someone besides a Target cashier! And what kind of Christmas would it be without a spectacular holiday retail boom? Humbug!

We have already been reluctant to shop at Target because of their atrocious return policy; in particular, because of this policy, we never inflict Target-bought gifts on people. While return fraud is a problem for all retailers, Target’s inflexibility has puzzled me; one of the reasons stores tend to put up with a level of fraud is to avoid alienating customers, something their policies have done on several occasions.

With this new policy, I’m convinced that their inflexibility is just a manifestation of the management’s irrational need for control and uniformity. They got in trouble a few years ago for refusing to donate to a veterans group because their policy required that all groups jump through a set of bureaucratic hoops before receiving charitable contributions. (Ironically, the corporate office did support that particular charity, but they destroyed all credit they might have gotten with their ham-fisted approach.) They seem to be forgetting that their policies and procedures have goals, and that the goals, not the policies, are what you should strive to preserve when things don’t work out the way you thought.

Target is jerking their support of the Salvation Army during Christmas, in a way that doesn’t even save Target money, during a fundraiser that is responsible for 70% of the Army’s budget. In my eyes, when it comes to hard-heartedness, Ebenezer Scrooge doesn’t hold a candle to these guys. Next time you think about shopping at Target, ask yourself which of these services you think should take the hit for the $9 million of the Army’s budget they think they’ll lose because of Target’s paranoia, and then make your way to a Wal-Mart or K-Mart instead. And on your way in, listen to the bells ringing, and drop a little extra into that kettle. I’m sure they could use the help.

UPDATE (2004-11-20): Hugh Hewitt says it better than I; go read it. James Lileks is not convinced, probably because he’s a huge fan. I will admit that my previous attitude towards Target certainly inclined me to this decision; I’m not sure I would have shopped there anyway. But Target is the closest department store to us, and convenience has overcome our attitudes before. I’m no retail wizard, but it doesn’t seem smart for them to foster more bad impressions among their customers.

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