I recently wrote about Target Cartwheel’s failed attempt for a graceful entrance into the mobile space this past spring. Since a few months have passed, I took the opportunity to see if the experience has improved for mobile-savvy Target shoppers.

Mobile is the new bright and shiny object for retailers: it’s mobile apps, mobile responsive sites with mobile commerce on the horizon. Four years ago it was Twitter, social commerce and location-based everything.

We’re still in a nascent stage, where multi-billion dollar brands like Uniqlo still haven’t figured out that shopping through a mobile device can’t simply be  a smaller version of your regular website: just try shopping on the site from your phone or tablet.

Target Cartwheel has improved significantly, primarily because there’s an app, but the overall Target Cartwheel experience is still a bit overwhelming and unwieldy.

Target Cartwheel App Updates

You can now browse categories – 19 in all, from Pet Care to Grocery and Luggage – or choose collections or season (back to school). This makes a lot of sense, but searching and browsing through Target Cartwheel products is still incredibly cumbersome:

Pull up ‘Grocery’ – and there are 14 sub-categories from frozen foods to deli.  216 total results across 14 sub-categories


A bit unwieldy, especially since the app limits you to select only 12 offers for your cart – then you either have to delete an offer or stick with your 12.

The Target Cartwheel App is still in the early stages of functionality, search and user experience: you can spend five seconds trying to get back to the main screen as swiping isn’t fluid. This high frustration factor will increase drop-offs, decreased usage or deletion.

Consumer Feedback


Head over to Facebook/Target and you’ll see that reviews are fairly positive, especially with those extreme couponers who will take the time to determine how they can ‘stack’ coupons, combining one manufacturer’s coupon, one Target coupon and one Target Cartwheel offer, if this is allowed.

The three most prevalent consumer complaints are as follows:

1. You’re forced to have a Facebook account and sign-in through Facebook

2. Missed redemptions – which adds to a level of consumer frustration and in-store operational disruption

3. Store employees haven’t been properly trained or are not aware of Target Cartwheel App.

With the Facebook objection my feeling is that you can’t please everyone.  On missed redemptions and employee awareness these are part executional and part operational – and ultimately will lead to consumer frustration, usage fall-off or deletion of the Target Cartwheel app.

Channel Bingo

Moving beyond the stand alone Target Cartwheel app, if I’m a Target customer, here are the potential communication channels I have with the brand:

  • Target Website – Desktop version

  • Target Website – Mobile Version

  • Target App

  • Target Facebook Page

  • Target Twitter Page

  • Target Cartwheel – Desktop version

  • Target Cartwheel App

For consumers, this is dizzying and challenging to cross-pollinate and drive consistency and awareness across these channels: many managed in silos with differing goals.  The obvious interaction point is to integrate the Target app and Target Cartwheel app, take a look at Capital One Mobile Banking App as a great mobile app example that segments various audiences, programs and goals nicely.

Think Like the Mobile App ‘A’ Team


For the Target Cartwheel team or any retailer, brand marketer or agency looking to cut through the clutter and build a powerful platform that drives usage, consider the following:

Make it:

  • Simple, but engaging – See Fab.com –who has developed a compelling, mobile-first retail business with upwards of 40 percent of their sales coming through mobile devices. Their curated approach and simple search functionality works for both smartphones and tablets

  • Curated and compelling – See Fancy.com — Retailers can learn a lot from emerging startups like Fancy, who’s simple interface has been billed ‘Pinterest’ for commerce

  • Relevant not random – See  Zara and their mobile app that strives to simplify the path to purchase by streamlining product views and not cluttering the browsing experience

  • Makes browsing or buying easy with one click – See Amazon and Zappos for pure-play ecommerce examples and the Zara mobile app for a best-in-class multi-channel approach.  From simple navigation to one-click buying these retailers have steadily improved the browsing and buying experience for customers.

Remember the first banner ad was released less than 20 years ago, we’ll get there with mobile experiences, but in the near term, we’ll have to wrestle with retailers who think  scanning pages of their offline catalog and putting it online makes it ‘digital and engaging.’

The reality is that we must think differently about consumer’s mobile behavior.  With Target Cartwheel, the challenge will be how do you move beyond dropping thousands of coupons into an app and keep it simple enough for customers to use with no disruption to store operations.

Bottom line: Target Cartwheel App Improves the offline, Sunday coupon experience, but still has a ways to go.

Jeff Fagel, Former VP Marketing

Jeff Fagel was formerly edo Vice President, Marketing and Brand Development.

Comments (7)

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  3. On September 16, 2013 paulie strouth said:

    If you don’t have a fancy phone and have to use the cartwheel site, check on the feedback section where you have to use Twitter, etc. not Facebook ,to enter and leave a ? or add a comment. that is 2 sites! Thousands of people, page after page, with angry and frustrating comments. People who want HOW to do this or that. “Brad” answers with – the program was designed to be “vague”. Stupid badges, no directions for anything, no answers from Brad. He recently had pictures showing where you can go to print out your list with a barcode. I have an iMAC and those pictures do not show for me. I left message that the programmer needs to remember that PC’s and iMAC’s need different codes to work.
    You start out with only 10 coupon places and then “vague” as to how to increase them. They have a social badge with no instructions and people have tried different things but can’t find the answers. “Brad” answers with – there are hints.! I tried cartwheel on Facebook and found 3 sites. I did not find answers. 10 coupons is not enough because I shop big! Everyone is asking for more than 10. A limit of 10 is not helping the shopper and people were saying they were going to shop Walmart because cartwheel takes too long and is too frustrating. They really need to start over with new programmers and make it simple and easy to use. Let people have at least 30 coupons at first. Good instructions, not VAGUE and HINTS!!! Target has millions, so why did this pass? Did they do any testing at all?

  4. On September 29, 2013 gretchen said:

    Disappointing to me, is the limitation that excludes all clearance items from the coupons on Cartwheel. All Target printable coupons and manufacturer coupons are valid on clearance, but not on Cartwheel. I shop almost exclusively clearance, except for necessary items, and my Target store doesn’t carry groceries, so it’s basically useless to me.

  5. On October 9, 2013 Bontilary said:

    Uhh just so the commentor knows you can use the all four times a day so split the transactions into four different ones and change the offers. That way you can use 40 offers instead of one. Also remember that this is the first all of its kind so it is bound to have a few hiccups but if you are familiar with the history of target if something bothers there guests they change it.

  6. On October 20, 2013 Eric said:

    Great concept……terrible execution. This was clearly rolled out before it was ready.

  7. On October 20, 2013 Eric said:

    Oh….and limiting a user to 10 (or 16, depending where you use it) coupons at a time, means I won’t use it at all until that changes.

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