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New leadership possibilities emerge for Target in 2012

The departure of two top Target executives in the span of 10 days probably wasn’t on the top of the company’s holiday wish list, but that’s the way the ball bounces in the retail big leagues. Last week, Target announced that Steve Eastman, president Target.com, had left the company to pursue other opportunities.

The release announcing the departure of Eastman was of the “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” variety and came in at a whopping 17 words. The likely explanation would seem to be the fact that the highly-anticipated relaunch of Target.com in late August did not go as smoothly as planned. 

Target brought its online operations in house after a lengthy relationship with Amazon.com, and the company’s goal was to reinvent the online environment and create a user-friendly and reliable experience. That proved not to be the case initially as critics panned the site design and there were difficulties with functionality, some of which was blamed on an extensive group of technology partners and friction between the technology and marketing folks.

The departure of Eastman followed the resignation just 10 days earlier of chief marketing officer Michael Francis. At least, when Francis left he was thanked for his many contributions, and Target chairman, president and CEO Gregg Steinhafel wished him the best in his future endeavors.

Francis, who was also spearheading Target’s efforts to enter the Canadian market in 2013, resigned to become the new president of JCPenney. In that capacity, he joins fellow Target alum Ron Johnson who was hired away from his role as head of Apple’s retail operation to become CEO.

So Target lost its top online and marketing executives under what would appear to be different circumstances. As is often the case with such situations, as one door closes another one opens and who knows, looking back a year from now Target may actually benefit from fresh thinking and new ideas that inevitably results from a change in leadership. Or it could turn to someone who knows the company well and its larger rival. Remember John Fleming? He’s the former Target executive who ran Walmart.com for a few years and then led Walmart’s marketing and merchandising organizations before he was let go 18 months ago. Not only was Fleming not a good fit for Northwest Arkansas and the Walmart culture, shoppers rejected the strategies he put in place which left Walmart stores and the retailer’s approach to marketing looking a little too much like Target.

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