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Hoping to put last year's data-breach focused holiday season in the rearview mirror, Target is finally starting to reposition itself as a leader in the low-price sector.
Ahead of the bull's-eye retailer's third-quarter earnings report next week, Stifel Nicolaus analyst David Schick on Monday upgraded his rating on the company to "buy" from "hold," saying it appears Target is playing more "on offense" lately.
In particular, the company beat industry peers when it announced plans last month to offer free shipping on all web orders ahead of the holidays. But Target is also executing better on its product and marketing, Schick said.
Read More Target to open at 6 pm Thanksgiving Day
"We like some recent 'old school' Target merchandising," he said, calling attention to the retailer's exclusive partnership with Minnesota-based blanket and accessories maker Faribault Woolen Mill. He added the company's advertisements are also getting noticed.
Belus Capital Advisors analyst Brian Sozzi agreed the ads are a step in the right direction, saying he was particularly pleased that they're once again incorporating the famed bull terrier with a red bull's-eye around his left eye.
"I believe bringing the Target pup [back] is a win-win for the company," Sozzi said. "First, who can't connect with the warmth of a puppy... Second, this is a very social media friendly tactic by the company, [and] could lead to tons of retweets/Facebook likes if the puppy photo is used to promote products."
Target spokeswoman Jenna Reck said the retailer is "boldly [embracing] the iconic elements that make Target, Target."
On top of these changes, Target in the fourth quarter is facing its easiest comparison since second quarter 2009, Schick said. That's partly due to the company's massive data breach, which hit the news during the holiday shopping season last year.
In terms of the third quarter, Schick said he isn't expecting the retailer's results to be much of an event. In particular, Canada remains a severe headwind for the company, he said.
Thomson Reuters estimates are calling for Target to earn 48 cents a share on $17.56 million in revenue. That compares to earnings per share of 56 cents on revenues of $17.26 million in the same quarter the prior year.
Looking ahead to the fourth quarter, Target still faces challenges. The holiday season is already shaping up to be highly promotional, with competitors such as Amazon and Wal-Mart raising the lid on Black Friday deals at the beginning of November.
But where Target hopes to differentiate itself this year is on product. At a company event last week, Julie Guggemos, senior vice president of product design & development, admitted Target had lost focus a bit on the "deliver more" aspect of its "deliver more, pay less" positioning.
"We'd been a little 'pay less' focused," she said.
"We just are ready to deliver the unexpected."
Target shares were slightly higher, near $65, in late morning trading.