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How Target's digital chief plans to partner with startups and bring the big-box behemoth into the internet age

"We want to innovate the in-store experience."

Recode/Alex Ulreich

Jason Goldberger, who was today promoted to chief digital officer of Target, readily acknowledges that a tiny portion — "4 to 5 percent" — of Target sales happen online.

"Digital is a fairly small percentage of the business," Goldberger told Recode's Jason Del Rey at the first Code Commerce Series event in Las Vegas. "But it’s a big chunk of the growth. It drives more commerce than just the numbers you're giving."

In his talk onstage, Goldberger touched on all things digital at Target — mobile payments, startup partnerships, in-store tech services and more.

The newly christened digital chief argued that digital operations at Target are much bigger than simply clicking "add to cart."

"People use the app in the store, search within the store, see what aisle [their desired product] is in," he explained. "Thirty million people visit a Target property each week, and 25 million [visit]."

Though Goldberger was bullish on how Target tech services can be used to augment in-store experiences, the company has been slow to enter the mobile payments game.

The company, along with other retailers, is an investor in the near-death mobile payment consortium MCX, which Goldberger nodded to. As for other NFC wireless services (like Apple Pay), he said that Target was "focused on chip-and-pin before getting to stuff like NFC."

Wireless NFC technology and chip-and-pin credit cards are generally considered to be much safer alternatives to conventional cards or MCX's critically panned QR code-scanning method.

Goldberger says that Target, which a couple years ago suffered one of the worst breaches of customer data in U.S. history, now has "a really strong fraud team" and that the transition to chip-and-pin has "worked well for us."

Goldberger also hyped Target's more unconventional efforts to get into digital spaces, like its partnership with the startup incubator Techstars. He referenced other deals, too, such as Target's agreement with the store-pickup startup Curbside and its pilot program with grocery deliverer Instacart.

But Goldberger says not to expect a dramatic increase in these kinds of partnerships with startups.

"Quite a lot of people want to work with us. Most companies can’t handle the scale," Goldberger said. "The few we do — the list is short — are doing something we aren’t focused on doing or that we want to test."

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