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Report On Business Crowds of shoppers brave cold for Target liquidation sale, but underwhelmed

Target Canada attracted brisk crowds to its liquidation sales on Thursday, but many shoppers emerged from its stores saying they were disappointed.

Shelves were empty and deals lacking, with most items marked down by just 10 per cent, many bargain-hunting shoppers said.

“I had my eyes on these towels when I came before - I was hoping for a better discount,” said Kenny Neal at the Stockyards Target location in Toronto. “It sounds like they don’t even really want to get rid of them with 10 per cent off. It’s a liquidation, I expect at least 30 or 40 per cent.”

Target advertised liquidation sales with discounts of “up to 30 per cent,” but many of the markdowns appeared to be at the lower end of the spectrum, leaving shoppers underwhelmed.

Such going-out-of-business sales that are run by third-party liquidators often follow a similar pattern, said Bruce Winder, senior adviser at retail consultancy J.C. Williams Group.

“It’s pretty typical that retailers do a tiered approach,” starting with small discounts and gradually accelerating the markdowns over time, Mr. Winder said.

However, because of all the publicity that Target had got about its liquidation sales following its high-profile failure and abrupt plans to exit Canada, consumers expected better deals, he said.

Target got court protection from its creditors on Jan. 15 after less than two years in the country, letting go 17, 600 employees by May 15 when all its 133 stores will have closed.

By 10 a.m. on Thursday, the checkout line snaked down and around the back of the Stockyard Toronto store and customers were busy combing through kids clothing, DVDs and home décor - a stark contrast to last week when Helena Martins and Ada Musolino, regular Target shoppers, were shopping before the liquidation.

“We could go right to cash and that was it. Two or three cash registers open last week,” Ms. Musolino said.

At the Target in the Chinook Centre mall in Calgary, shoppers turned up in good numbers to check out the savings on offer although many left the store empty-handed or with just a few small items. Some complained that the clearance did not live up to the hype.

Video: Shoppers disappointed at Target’s liquidation sales

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BNN reports on Canadians waiting to snap up deals at Target Canada’s liquidation sale

"It's a joke. This doesn't even bring their prices down in line with their competitors," said Barbara Morris, as she left with her husband Philip.‎ They did not come looking for specific items.

"But they have 17,000 people to pay off so they have to try to cut their losses," Mr. Morris said. "They should have come in quietly and opened one or two stores, kind of thing.‎ But they bungled it. Nothing against Americans but they're like a bull at the gates. I think shoppers are bit more more discerning than they assumed."

Lorrie, who declined to give her last name, said she noticed that in at least one instance clearance prices were higher.

"Actually, it's funny, because I was here ‎last week and I was looking at some bedding, and some of them were $59.99. Today, they're $89.99 with 10 per cent off," she said.

At least one shopper in Calgary said she was disappointed Target was closing up shop.

"I love Target. I go to Target, like, every day. I work here in the mall," said Madison Fink. "In my opinion, Target was a better version of Walmart. Their clothing is nicer and I thought they had great prices on cosmetics."

Her companion, Tom Hay, said electronics deals on offer were underwhelming. Fifty-five-inch Magnavox TVs, for example, were selling in the store‎ at $629, with 10 per cent off.

"Those savings you can get‎ at any discount big box store," Mr. Hay said. "But this is just the start (of the clearance)."

Ms. Martins in Toronto is also sad to see Target go. “I liked the people working here, it was very pleasant. I could always find what I was looking for,” she said.

“It makes me sad [that] it took them closing down for people to come shop here. It’s almost like scavengers.”

Becky Cammaart said she thinks the closing of Target in her neighbourhood, the Stockyards in Toronto, will be bad for other businesses in the area. "I think a lot of shops came here because the Target was here," she said.

Indeed, landlords were concerned that Target’s liquidation sales would hurt the image of their malls and steal business from their other retail tenants.

In the meantime, Jeff Cam said he’ll likely go to the Canadian Tire down the street to finish furnishing his new house.

“A lot of the stuff [there] is already cheaper or the same price,” he said.

Mr. Winder said liquidation sales tend to start with discounts closer to 10 to 20 and 30 per cent, and progressively increase. But he said markdowns on consumer electronics such as televisions are often very modest because retailers have very low margins on those products to begin with.

He also noted that major suppliers such as PepsiCo Canada had banded together to try to sway Target not to discount their products too much, for fear of hurting their image.

“Consumer expectations, no doubt, were very high, in terms of looking for big discounts,” Mr. Winder said.

Molly Snyder, spokeswoman for Target, said this week that the company has already let go most of its head office employees -- with about 80 left out of 770 when the retailer filed for bankruptcy protection on Jan. 15.

She said refrigerated items such as milk and eggs were no longer being shipped to the stores and out of stock. As well, merchandise that Target purchased on consignments, such as trading baseball cards, greeting cards, magazines and books are not part of the liquidation.

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