Experts Weigh In on Target’s Smith & Hawken Web Strategy

Apr 16, 2010 11:42 PM  By

Is Target turning the Smith & Hawken Website into a social media platform for gardeners? That’s the message – Smith & Hawken growing a new social network to get back in the garden – on the home page of the defunct home and garden merchant, which Target acquired from The Scotts Co. in December.

But Target will not discuss its plans for the site. When asked, a spokesperson for Target told Multichannel Merchant in an e-mail that “the message was mistakenly posted before we acquired the Smith & Hawken brand. We are currently working to remove the information.”

Target should be careful with how it treats the Smith & Hawken brand online. Fatemeh Khatibloo, principal at e-commerce and social media consultancy TimesTwoMarketing, says Target has been heavily criticized in the blogosphere for contributing to the deterioration of the Smith & Hawken brand.

“Despite the private labeling reputation that Target is known for in other categories, it has not carried over well here,” Khatibloo says. “The sense I get is that the downfall of the mainline brand coincided with the Target private labeling, and consumers saw these two separate events as one.”

As a result, Khatibloo says some loyal customers “blame” Target for reducing the quality of Smith & Hawken merchandise. Khatibloo says she has not seen the same negative reaction to Target by fans of the Thomas O’Brien, GO International Designers or Isaac Mizrahi labels.

This may not bode well for Target if it really is planning to make Smith & Hawken an online community, says Amy Africa, CEO of Web consultancy Eight by Eight. That’s because the gardening community is one of the most powerful social groups on the Web.

“Gardening enthusiasts were doing aggressive social media stuff long before anyone knew what it was,” Africa says, pointing to forums and boards that have been used to turn e-commerce sites like Dave’s Garden, for example, into communities.

“Using Smith & Hawken would be an excellent way for Target to get into social media on its own terms,” Africa says. Then again, she notes a company with the size and power of a Target may not need social media as much as a small merchant might.

“You need to remember that social media means something different for companies like Target than it does for someone like [small food and gifts merchant] Fairytale Brownies or [small children's apparel and accessories merchant] Chasing Fireflies,” Africa says.

Had the home page message alerting visitors that the Smith & Hawken brand, which is sold in Target stores and on the Target Website, been posted before Target’s Dec. 30 acquisition, it would mean the message has been in place for more than 100 days.

“They probably left home page in place because they are still fleshing out some sort of strategy for Smith & Hawken,” says David Wertheimer, director of strategy at Web design firm and consultancy Alexander Interactive. “It’s better to have a visitor go nowhere right now rather than have it redirect to a landing page for Smith & Hawken, and then switch their brand strategy.”