If retail stores could splice their DNA, then Target might be considered a hybrid of Walmart and IKEA. The chain’s 1900-plus U.S. locations tend to focus less on just rock-bottom prices and more on offering consumers a variety of home goods—including furnishings, apparel, and even grocery items—in an aesthetically pleasing environment.
Target employees, or “team members,” adhere to a company policy of going out of their way to make sure customers leave happy. To get a better idea of what that entails, Mental Floss asked a number of current and former Target associates about their experiences walking those well-polished floors. Here’s what they had to say about life under the bull's-eye.
1. Target employees have 15 seconds to respond to a customer’s call for help.
Go to a department inside a Target—toys, electronics, tools—and you’ll see a small call button or telephone you can use for assistance with inventory, pricing, or even to report a spill. This is Target’s version of DEFCON 1, and team members are expected to react accordingly. “When a guest picks up one of those red phones by the price scanners, they are given a chance to be directed to the store operator or page a team member,” Michael, a Target team member in the Los Angeles area, tells Mental Floss. “When they page a team member, it will announce on our walkies that a guest needs service in whatever area the phone was in. We have 15 seconds to get to that phone and clear the request.”
If they don’t make it in 15 seconds, the employee will get a second notice from the system. Miss it a third time and the store and its employees will take a hit on their guest service scores, which are also influenced by customer satisfaction surveys, speed of checkout, and other metrics. (Low scores might prompt a managerial scolding.)
2. Target employees are trained in biohazard clean-up.
If you work with the public, encountering bodily fluids is part of the job. At Target, cart attendants are typically responsible for retrieving shopping carts as well as any general maintenance, including messes that didn’t make their way into a toilet or sink. But if the cart attendant isn’t available, that means other team members have to be trained in eliminating messes. “Technically, it’s the cart attendant’s responsibility, but we don’t have one all the time,” Katherine, a Target team member in Missouri, tells Mental Floss. “You have to be certified in biohazard clean-up. It’s training you have to do. You’re able to clean chemical spills, feces, stuff like that.”
Katherine says she’s had to dispose of errant poop as well as used underwear. Fortunately, there’s a hierarchy for more serious spills: “For blood, we’re supposed to get the store leader.”
3. Target Starbucks isn’t really a Starbucks.
A welcome perk of Target locations is their food court, which can host a variety of pizza or other fast food items and typically includes a Starbucks location. But according to Katherine, that Starbucks isn’t a Starbucks by the strictest of definitions. “A Starbucks in a Target is not actually a Starbucks,” she says. Those storefronts are actually managed by Target, not the coffee chain. “If they transferred to Starbucks, they would have to be re-trained, or trained. Starbucks doesn’t consider Target Starbucks to be Starbucks.”
4. Target employees hate when customers act like “Karen.”
If you hear a Target employee discuss someone named “Karen” in your presence, be concerned. On Reddit and other internet forums where Target team members congregate to swap customer horror stories, the name has evolved to be a catch-all for a rude, obnoxious shopper. “Karen is basically the guest that complains about why her coupon didn’t work,” Katherine says. “She’s many people. Her name may not be Karen in real life, but she’s a pain. Just a guest that wants to speak with your manager.”
5. Target employees want to connect with you.
Target’s corporate lingo used to include the concept of the “Vibe,” which was a term used to reference how team members can achieve maximum customer satisfaction. Though the “Vibe” term has gone out of style, the idea remains—get the customer feeling good about their experience. “The Vibe was Target's way of helping customers and getting them to buy more stuff,” Adam, a former Target employee in Wisconsin, tells Mental Floss. “For example, a customer is looking to buy a digital camera. We'd try to get them to buy a memory card and maybe a protective case for it as well. Target wanted us to try to ‘connect’ with the customer to drive additional sales. The Vibe was also doing other things such as price-matching low-priced items no questions asked, putting things on hold, walking customers' purchases out to their car and even putting them in their car.”
6. Target employees sometimes dread seeing Funko collectors walk in.
For Funko collectors, coveting the blockheaded vinyl figures means going on a hunt for exclusives at various retail outlets. Their enthusiasm for snagging limited-run items can sometimes tax the patience of employees, who are often recruited to assist in the search. “They can be the most annoying people in the world,” Katherine says. “Other collectors, Hot Wheel collectors, are not that bad. [Funko] collectors know the item number, what time the truck arrives. They have their own sub-Reddit. They know how we work and operate. They can be hostile in person.”
Collectors who idle in the hopes that a Funko shipment is lurking in the stock room are usually out of luck. “We typically don’t have it in the back because they sell out really fast. Some Funko collectors are all right, but one time, at eight in the morning, someone spent the whole day there waiting for Funko to be unpacked. He asked four team members. He wanted like a special edition Shining Funko.” (Another employee eventually found it.)
7. No, Target employees are not hiding stuff from you.
As with any inventory system, Target’s website and its internal stock database can never be exactly correct at all times. When the computer indicates they have an item and it can’t be found, Michael says that some customers assume the team member is being deceptive. “Many guests believe that we have literally every item in the back room,” he says. “On our devices it may say we have X amount of an item on hand ... in reality, that number takes a while to update if it’s been sold. That number could also mean it’s in someone’s shopping cart, at guest services waiting to be sorted, thrown in a random spot, or stolen. They throw a fit all the time and accuse us [of] hiding it or some other crazy accusation.”
8. Target has its own forensic labs.
Like most retail stores, Target tries to limit losses as a result of shoplifting. The company even has two forensic laboratories, based in Las Vegas and Minneapolis, to analyze security footage and gather evidence of criminal activities. Employees are not expected to intervene on the sales floor, however, due to the potential for physical confrontation or liability. Instead, they usually just have to contact the asset protection teams and watch. “One lady last summer stole a bunch of clothes," Katherine says. "They got her to the police station, and she had stuffed a shirt up her butt. They asked if we wanted it back and ugh, no.”
9. Target employees have a low-key uniform—but it can sometimes be uncomfortable.
The Target “uniform” is relatively straightforward: a red shirt with khakis. (Although it varies a little by store, and some locations will allow team members to wear jeans on select occasions.) Because that’s not exactly a proprietary outfit, Katherine says that customers can sometimes be mistaken for employees. “They see people dress similar to Target workers and so they’ll go up to people,” she says. Katherine’s store has not yet gone to jeans, which she laments: “The khakis can be uncomfortable.”
10. Target employees have their own lingo—and they dread the clopen.
Target workers have their own vernacular. Broad sight lines and wide aisles populate a race track, or main pathway, that circles the stores. Reshop is merchandise that is out of place; zoning refers to making sure item labels are facing front on shelves. Adam says team members also reference the clopen, a work shift that is possibly the least desirable of them all. “I'd [like to] get rid of the clopen shifts,” he says, “having a closing shift and then an opening shift the next day.”
11. Target employees appreciate the perks.
Working at Target is no picnic. Because of the store’s commitment to exceptional customer service, team members can’t easily phone in their work performance and expect to stick around. That demand sometimes breaks rookies. “There’s a high turnover rate in general,” Katherine says. “People are intimidated by Target. When they first start, it’s a lot to take on, learning terms. Sometimes people start and never come back the next day."
If they stick it out, it might turn out to be one of the better experiences in retail. “It’s probably the best job I’ve ever had,” Katherine says, citing her circle of team members who are also her friends. Employees have also cited a 10 percent discount, flexible hours, and mandated break times as other perks that making working at Target a plus.
A version of this story ran in 2019; it has been updated for 2021.