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      LOOK WHO'S STALKING WAL-MART. By: Conlin, Michelle, BusinessWeek, 00077135, 12/7/2009, Issue 4158
Target is increasingly going downmarket to get through the consumer recession. But can it ape its rival and retain its cachet?
At a Target store, the visual sizzle usually comes from the photos of all the fabulous-looking people wearing fabulous clothes and doing fabulous things. Of late, though, there's an entirely new vibe--supersize signs screaming dirt-cheap prices. Past the cashiers is something else unmistakably novel: a sleek Euro-style mart carrying fresh cuts of sirloin, cheery piles of fruit, and hormone-free dairy.

The lowest prices on the planet! Plus a grocery store. Wait. Doesn't that sound an awful lot like Wal-Mart?

Target reinvented American retailing. By democratizing design, it rescued the family budgeter from the aesthetic provinces of dinette sets and acid-washed jeans. Target was one of the first to use famous fashion designers to cast a halo over its brand and draw people into its stores. Before long hipsters had dubbed the retailer "Tarzhay," and everyone from J.C. Penney to Wal-Mart was ripping off Target's cheap-chic playbook.

Now the charge is that Target is copying its archrival, and its executives are bristling. They insist they provide a superior store experience. Nor have they any plans to abandon their 15-year-old slogan: "Expect more, pay less." "We're not trying to be anyone else," says Chief Executive Gregg W. Steinhafel. "We're working hard to convey both sides of our brand."

All the same, a kind of role reversal is under way in Retail Land. Wal-Mart has long borrowed from Target. Now Target is stalking Wal-Mart. Target's magic has always been about pushing its low-cost business model relentlessly upmarket. But to get itself through the Great Recession, it appears to be going downmarket. Some critics say the strategy smacks of desperation. Others, pointing to a rebounding stock price...