Target just can't seem to zero in on the right balance between cheap and chic.
After skewing its messaging and product mix too heavily toward the "pay less" portion of its "expect more, pay less" promise after the recession, the pendulum has now swung the other way.
Having successfully revitalized sales in its "signature" categories of style, baby, kids and wellness, the discount retailer is now struggling to bring shoppers into its stores for two major categories that drive repeat traffic: grocery and pharmacy.
Footfall in Target's stores declined 2.2 percent during the second quarter, marking the first time in a year and a half that fewer shoppers visited the retailer's shops.
One of the biggest detractors during the three-month period was what the company admitted was an overemphasis on marketing its fashion assortment. While that bias contributed to a mid-single-digit comparable sales rise in women's apparel, it led to underperformance in the critical grocery division, where same-store sales fell.
The company once again struggled to bring in shoppers for smaller "fill-in" trips during the quarter, a trend it called out in the prior three-month period.
Traffic was also muted in Target's pharmacy business, as it worked to complete the transition to CVS branding. This led to "near-term disruption" from customers who dragged their feet on switching over their prescriptions. CVS completed the $1.9 billion acquisition of Target's pharmacy business in December.
And because of a slow cycle of product launches in the electronics category, this department welcomed fewer shoppers during the quarter. Electronics posted a double-digit same-store sales decline during the three-month period, including a 20 percent slide in sales of Apple products.
These challenges made for what the company described as a "difficult" retail environment, Target cut its same-store sales and earnings guidance for the year. And some of the strategies it laid out won't be short-term fixes.
"It's going to take awhile for Target to turn this around," UBS analyst Michael Lasser told CNBC. "[Traffic's] not an easy problem to fix."