Hello shoppers...


Julian Robinson (aaardvaark on flickr)

In this post, you're going to read an email sent to me by Sonja Pothen, Target Spokesperson, in response to questions I never asked her. You're also going to be able to hear a voice mail message left by Sonja to me, not apologizing for something she did that deserved one.

For the past two weeks I've been working with members of Target Corporate, specifically Sonja,  to set up an interview in which she and I would discuss the results of the secret shopper review of the 1111 East Army Post Road Target, posted on Thursday May 6th.  (Click here to read review.)

Sonja and I played phone tag for several days, then finally connected on Monday of this week.

We scheduled Wednesday at 11am to conduct the interview, over the phone, which would be recorded and then aired during Saturday morning's (tomorrow's) Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, on 1350 KRNT.

During our conversation on Monday, Sonja asked, reasonably enough,  if I could send her a list of the specific questions I would be asking during the interview.

I declined, however (un) reasonable that was - my 20 plus years of radio interviews suggests that Corporate spokespeople give answers to pre-submitted questions that sound and smell like someone else wrote them.

All of us deserve something more organic, more real, from the companies we buy from. They give us The Wizard of Oz - we want the curtain pulled back. I wanted information, insight and depth, something interesting for me and the people who read this blog, and listen to the radio show, to digest - both of you deserve more than just pap.

I understand the corporate position  - large companies pay large amounts of money to ensure their corporate brand and message remain strong and positive - no chinks in the armour.

But of course those chinks exist. The machine breaks down. Mistakes are made. As consumers, we see, hear and feel those mistakes, as we shop. No company is perfect, we get that. Yet to what extent those missteps affect our buying decisions, is a debate that's been going on since cavepeople formed the first LLC. 

From the secret shopper analysis of Target, I think I've found a mistake - the lack of music in their stores.

I've written about this at great length over the past weeks - why music is important in retail, and specifically why Target should be playing it. I'll give you the reasons now that I gave then, in the secret shopper review.

1. Any sound travels - which means customers can hear every employee to employee conversation, and that's bad, especially when you're dealing with a generally low wage-earning workforce, predominantly in their 20's and early 30's.   

2. Any sound travels - which means customers can hear every customer to customer conversation, and that's bad, especially when you're dealing with patrons who have varying ideas of what's appropriate to say in public, and what's not.   

3. Any sound travels - which means customers can hear every employee's tossed hanger,  slammed down box and moving of displays, which might sound normal when surrounded by other sounds, but sounds like grenades going off inside a gymnasium full of matching separates, Fergie CD's and health and beauty aids.   

4. Any sound travels - which means customers can hear every radio call that comes over every employee's two-way in-store walkie-talkie (used in Target) and some of those conversations are like #2 - the number above, and what you thought I meant.   

And #5 - music is just too fun and cool and breathtaking and soul-soothing and important, to make people go without it while they shop for cheap socks. It's unfair.

The questions for Sonja, then, would be:

1. Why has Target chosen to go without music?

2. What's the research they're seeing that no other major retailer has available to them?

3. What are the advantages to music free and what is the downside, in Target's eye?

4. Will it ever change? What would it take to change their policy?

In our conversation on Monday, I spit up a little of this to Sonja - me and my big Scorpio Italian only child mouth.

Yet she seemed okay, and not surprised - after all, she's a pro, she'd read the blog, she knew my view and, I assumed, would be ready, willing and able to engage me about it, on Tuesday.

She's a spokesperson, for crying out loud.

Comes that day, and 20 minutes before the scheduled interview time, I happen to notice a new email on my Blackberry.

I popped it open - and here's what it said.


Hi Jonnie,

Sorry to contact you last minute, but I’ve had another meeting come up today that I need to attend so I’m not going to be able to meet with you at 11 a.m. Instead, here are my responses based on your initial questions, which I hope help address the conversation we would have had. This is what I can share with you at this time so I hope it helps.


  • All of our team members go through an introductory Guest Service training during their first day on the job. Training of the guest experience and “Can I Help You Find Something?” initiative is reinforced on an ongoing basis.
  • We apologize if you didn’t receive the appropriate level of service during your recent shopping experience.
  • If at any point during your shopping experience you are concerned about a team member’s behavior, we encourage you to speak with a store manager who will appropriately address the situation. Additionally, if a store manager witnesses a situation involving a team member’s interactions with a guest and is concerned, they will address the situation at that time.
  • The reason we don’t play music overhead is because we strive to deliver a distraction-free shopping environment for our guests.

o   Signs are intended to inform our guests about the excellent value of merchandise and to educate guests on the intended use of an item.




Sonja Pothen | Communications | ¤Target | 1000 Nicollet Mall | TPN-1145 | Minneapolis, MN 55403 | 612.761.6731 (ph) | 952.261.7947 (cell)

My jaw dropped - and I had gum in it, fresh gum.

For a person like Sonja - who works in the media department of the second largest retailer in the world and is paid to do interviews everyday with TV, radio and print outlets in the markets served by their 1,800 stores  -  to send a radio show host an email, instead of calling him on the phone to cancel an interview that was scheduled over the phone, 20 minutes before that interview was to take place, is not the sort of professional courtesy one would expect from someone who never signs her name without adding, ", Target Spokesperson."

Her email - the timing of it and the content of it  -  was professionally discourteous and personally made me want to throw up into a cheap bucket I'd go purchase with the Sam's Club card I'd buy first.

It got worse with her voice mail.

First, I called Sonja almost immediately - her voice mail took it and I let her have it.

I told her that a phone call takes less time than writing an email, that she'd decided to cancel as soon as she knew the topic of the questioning, that she'd been rude to me and I didn't appreciate it, that an email is print and radio is sound and she, in media relations,  knew the difference.

On Tuesday, she left me a voice mail message - you can listen to it, below.

[audio /wp-content/uploads/2010/05/sonja-voice-mail.mp3]

(Sonja's Voice Mail Message)

The nearly first thing out of Sonja's mouth was, "I sincerely apologize if you felt that my email to you this morning was inadequate..."

Does Sonja really work for Target, or did she just stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night?

It's not an apology when someone says they're sorry if you feel bad about something they did. That's not taking ownership of what you did - there's no acknowledgement of, yeah, ya know what, it was stupid and short-sighted of me to email you instead of just picking up the phone and calling you, which would have taken less time. I'm really sorry.

I'm having to write the apology for someone who writes them for her company.

We talked one more time, in a conversation that I can only describe as surreal.



Jonnie: "Wouldn't it have been quicker to just call me, rather than email me?"

Sonja: "I wanted to get the information to you as soon as possible."



Jonnie: "Will you do a phone interview?"

Sonja: "I'll answer your questions with the exact wording I wrote in the email."

If I can guess if you're reading the response from a paper copy of the email or just reciting it from memory, do I get a bonus question?


Jonnie: "Do you personally prefer shopping at stores that don't play music?"

Sonja: "I don't think that's important to this subject."

In other words, she thinks it's as stupid as I do - if she didn't, wouldn't Sonja, or any of us in that position,  have said, "I prefer stores that don't have music distractions."


Jonnie: "What research does Target have that shows that consumers think that music is a distraction to shopping?"

Sonja: "I'm not the one who can answer that."

Jonnie: "Who can answer it?"

Sonja: "I've told you Target's position on this."

Jonnie: "Who is above you, that I can talk to, who can answer this?"

Sonja: "I'm at the top. There is no one else."

It must be lonely up there.

You can hear much more about this, this Saturday during The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, 8-9am on 1350 KRNT.

During the show, you'll hear Sonja's full voice mail message and my view on her responses.

You will also hear a fascinating interview with Eric Feigenbaum, editor of Visual Merchandising and Store Design Magazine in New York City, and the Chair of Visual Merchandising for LIM College.

He's forgotten more than Sonja or I will ever know about the subject of retail store design, including music.

And we'll see who is right - me, or Tarsonjaget.



Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am on 1350 KRNT. Email Jonnie at jonniewright@thebuyosphere.com.

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