Target pledges to act more like a start-up

At Target, innovation means acting like a start-up, taking risks and moving fast. At least that's the plan going forward according to Alan Wizemann. 

Wizemann joined Target (NYSE:TGT) in May after heading up the development of its popular Cartwheel app as a consultant. Today, he is VP of product for the retailer's website and mobile operations, and he's fast-tracking innovation as the retailer attempts to establish a stronger online presence, grow e-commerce and expand mobile applications.

Wizemann, an avid race car driver, shared his thoughts about going fast—in life and business—on the company's blog A Bullseye View. Many of his ideas are rooted in his experience with technology start-ups, a mindset he contends Target needs to adopt in order to succeed as a modern retailer.

Target has been investing in technology and looking to the tech sector for inspiration. The retailer debuted a technology accelerator program in India and a tech hub in Silicon Valley, with the intention of unearthing innovative ideas from startups. But in truth, Target itself needs to act more like those nimble, fledgling companies and take risks, according to Wizemann.

"Startups are the embodiment of risk. Big enterprises, by their very structure and nature, often try to avoid risk because dramatic changes can feel like abandoning a successful formula," said Wizemann. "Risk to me is healthy and a trait that leads to strength in developing innovative solutions. Without it, teams don't think outside of their daily activities, envelopes aren't pushed and bold ideas aren't pursued or shared. In today's rapidly changing world, big companies like Target need to look at risk more like a startup–or risk failing from inaction."

Target has taken precious few risks in recent years with two exceptions: A massive entry into Canada with 124 stores opened in the first year, and its mobile program including Cartwheel. In the first instance, Canada, Target made several strategic mistakes that it's struggling to correct. But in mobile commerce, Target's risk has paid off.

Cartwheel has been showered with praise and by its first anniversary in early July, boasted 7.7 million users. But it was slow to develop and roll out, and it nearly failed.

"During the development of Cartwheel, we hit a number of roadblocks and Target could have shut down the project completely, as reported recently by the Star Tribune," recounts Wizemann. "Even when we launched in May 2013, there were doubts and there were flaws. But the team was empowered to seek and act on real-time guest feedback, and we made a host of changes that helped make Cartwheel the success it is today."

It's those types of risks that Target needs more of.

"For a large company to really move and act more like a startup, it doesn't require betting the house–like the founders of startups often have to do," Wizemann said. "In fact, that's one of the great advantages of established companies. But it does require major changes and culture shifts. It means recognizing, like startups do, that failure is the most likely outcome, and then embracing that reality to drive towards success."

*A version of this story originally ran in FierceRetailIT's sister publication, FierceMobileRetail.

For more:
-See this Target A Bullseye View blog post
-See this Minneapolis Star Tribune story

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