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Could Target's Move Away From Gender-Based Signs Kick-Start a Trend?

Yes, but not the one you think

The children's section of Target is getting a gender-neutral makeover.

Late last week Target announced it will phase out some gender-based signs in its stores, specifically in the toy and bedding aisles. Giving shoppers a more gender-neutral experience seems to be the brand's response to complaints it received on social media earlier this summer.

Now Target's decision to retool its in-store experience is making headlines, but could it kick-start a trend with other major retailers? 

According to Target's announcement, it will remove references to gender in toy and bedding sections over the next few months. It'll also stop using pink, blue, yellow and green paper to denote shelves with items targeted to boys or girls. The brand listened to feedback from consumers and "decided that this was the right time to make a couple of adjustments in our stores," according to a spokeswoman.  

"It's the socially correct thing to do, and for certain segments it's going to send the right signals, but I don't think there will be a mad rush to the gender-neutral trend," said Allen Adamson, North American chairman at brand consulting firm Landor. "Other retailers will follow because Target is a leader and innovative, but there will not be a stampede."

Other major retailers like Walmart and Toys "R" Us don't actually use gender-based signs, according to Jim Silver, chief executive and editor in chief of toy review site TTPM. "They have it broken down by category and lose the connotation of boys and girls toys," he said.

Still, branding experts see it as a winning move for Target. And more than a trend toward gender-neutral signage, it signals a shift in the way brands react to shoppers on social media—ultimately elevating the importance of customer feedback. 

"Target is doing what a good brand does," said Leesa Wytock, head of digital activation for branding agency Siegel+Gale, "which is listen to what's going on out there, listen to how their customer base is responding to it and think about if, as a brand, it is the right move for them to do something about it or not to do something about it." 

The change is a reflection of the growing power of consumers and how social media can help them make a change, say branding experts. 

"This is not about political correctness," said Rob Gregory, chief revenue officer of social media site WhoSay. "What it's really about is the illumination that social media brings to a brand's true intentions. It all comes back to social media and the existence of these tools and everyday consumers becoming more powerful." 

Mary Beth Keetly, chief marketing officer of PM Digital, agreed. "Ultimately the main drivers of this change are today's customers," she said. "They've demonstrated to the brand that certain values and experiences are of high importance to them, and by answering that need, Target is further shifting the focus to its customer."

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