Target Canada liquidation sales today herald bitter end

The logo of Target, a discount retail store, is pictured in Richmond, British Columbia January 15, 2015. Target Corp's abrupt decision to withdraw from Canada is troubling news for many mall owners, as the most obvious potential buyer of property assets - Wal-Mart - is expected to cherry-pick from Target's 133 locations. Minneapolis-based Target, the second-biggest U.S. discounter, obtained creditor protection for the Canadian unit and said on Thursday it will seek to sell real estate assets, including leases for some 14.7 million square feet of retail space. REUTERS/Ben Nelms (CANADA - Tags: BUSINESS REAL ESTATE LOGO) (REUTERS)

Eager shoppers flocked to Target Canada on opening day two years ago. And they're swarming stores once again, as liquidation sales began today.

A Target Canada employee told CBC News there was a lineup outside her store in Ontario this morning before it opened.

"We were rushed. [Customers] were literally running. Team members had to jump out of the way so they were not run over."

But don't let the action fool you. What began as a bright beginning for Target's Canadian venture is ending on a sour note.

The company failed to wow Canadian shoppers and resentment is brewing in the ranks of its workers during the final days. Plus, hundreds of creditors — from suppliers to a national charity — are still waiting for their bills to get paid.

U.S.-based Target announced in mid-January that it would be closing its 133 stores in Canada, which would result in the layoff of about 17,600 employees.

Shoppers will pounce

Canadian shoppers continually complained that Target Canada lacked selection and that prices were higher than expected.

"They really just failed to meet expectations, even the most basic expectations," says retail analyst Doug Stephens, who is with Retail Prophet consultancy.

Despite that, he said before the liquidation sales began Thursday that he believed Canadians would show up for them.

"Everyone seems to like a deal and if they sense that the retailer is having difficulty, they'll pounce."

Toronto Target shopper Karen Reacher said she was "hoping to get some deals, some reduced prices and maybe take advantage of that."

Target Canada boycott

But Ian Stubley from Burlington, Ont., said he wants nothing to do with the liquidation event.

The small business owner even created a Facebook site asking shoppers to boycott the big sales.

"The mentality of the people going there, they're going to be going after the bargains. They're not going to have any empathy for the staff and what they're going through," he says.

Stubley is unhappy with the way he feels Target is treating its soon to be laid-off workers. No one will receive a severance package.

"I don't think they're being treated fairly at all," he says

Discontented workers

The company is paying most employees for at least 16 weeks, but they may have to work for the entire period.

For Sarah who works at Target Canada, not receiving a severance package was just the beginning of her employment problems.

Sarah is not her real name. She wants that withheld because she fears repercussions from the company.

She says a manager reminded her just a couple of days ago, "Don't talk to the media or you will be terminated."

Sarah believes that the mood in her Ontario store has reached new lows as workers prepare for the final days.

"The morale in the store is horrible, absolutely horrible. Everybody's angry," she told CBC News.

Workplace stress

She says employees are tasked with moving heavy loads of merchandise to the front and that "management is constantly threatening our jobs if we do not work like dogs."

She also says an increase in worker absenteeism has lead to a crackdown.

"If we call in sick two days in a row we have to have a doctor's note. And if it becomes a pattern, we will be terminated."

Sarah is not looking forward to the liquidation sales.

"Team members are worried that we will be swarmed with bargain hunters and rude [customers], more so than we have already been dealing with."

She also says, starting today, employees will no longer get a store discount. "It's just one more kick in the ass to the team members."

Unpaid bills

Employees aren’t the only ones feeling short-changed. Target Canada was hemorrhaging money and has received court protection from its creditors. It owes billions of dollars.

Bills range from almost $2 million owed to Starbucks to close to $300 000 promised to Food Banks Canada for a national charity program.

"We continue to remain hopeful that there will be some support at the end of all this, but I suspect we won't hear for a while," says MarzenaGersho, spokeswoman for Food Banks Canada."It's not easy news for us."

But whatever Target Canada's problems, marketing expert Ken Wong predicts many shoppers will still show up for the final event. "I don't think they're going to act out of morality and not go to Target liquidation sales," the Queen's University professor says.

He also points out the final sales may bring some customer satisfaction.

"At the end of the day, consumers will finally get the Target prices they were expecting to find."

Perhaps. The fire sale started with up to 30 per cent off merchandise. Some shoppers have already complained those discounts aren't deep enough.

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