Target cannot win for trying. The discount retailer hoped the launch of its latest designer collaboration would produce sales and positive word-of-mouth for the chain, which has suffered since a large data breach in late 2013. The Lilly for Target collection, featuring the colorful bright prints and signature resort wear styles of the late Lilly Pulitzer, was highly anticipated; however, that anticipation created the chain’s latest problem: overwhelming demand with little inventory.
The Lilly for Target line featured the pastel dresses, home décor, accessories and beach attire that have made the designer a resort stalwart for decades at the chain’s typical low prices. Target.com, the store’s Web site, could not handle the onslaught it received once the items were supposed to go on sale. In addition, the retailer’s stores were overwhelming by long lines of Pulitzer fans who emptied the shelves quickly. That might be good news for most stores, but Target did not need the ensuing complaints from unhappy wanna-be customers.
Target has teamed up with high-end designers to present limited edition fashion lines since 2006. The collections from Temperley, Missoni, Zac Posen, Alexander McQueen, Prabal Gurung, Jason Wu, Anna Sui and others have been largely very successful. They tend to create lots of buzz and sell out (Some of the edgier collections, however, have noticeably wound up on clearance racks, not to mention the bewildering collaboration with Neiman Marcus on a holiday line.
This 250-piece collection utilized 15 exclusive Pulitzer-type preppy prints in Target prices. The designer’s signature collarless, sleeveless shift dresses for women retail for $180 to $300; Target’s version sold for $38. The retailer’s Lilly bikinis were $48 less than half of the normal Pulitzer price.
Target knew the collection would draw huge demand. There was a huge crowd at a preview event in New York. In addition, the social media was abuzz since the collection was announced in January. Throw in the expenditures the company presumably has made on the IT side since it had its data breach and Target.com could not handle the demand for Missoni in 2011. That all makes the shopping debacle today more confounding and undoubtedly embarrassing for the company.
On the Web front, the Lilly for Target items went on sale at Midnight Eastern time. By 1 a.m., Target was apologizing to customers via social media that the “website is updating and will be shoppable soon.” However, a mere two hours later, the retailer reported that the “overwhelming excitement” was still causing issues, which they continued to work on through the night. Reportedly, customers could access the site on and off during the night, but only in limited numbers to control the traffic issues.
It took until about 6 a.m. for the site to become fully operational, but the collection was available online, but sold out right away. Many customers also complained they got on the site and were unable to add items to their carts or they did add them, but they were no longer available at checkout. By Sunday afternoon, the retailer reported that most items were sold out and the stock would no be replenished..
At physical stores, the experience was largely the same. There were reports of Black Friday-like long lines of shoppers waiting outside many brick-and-mortar stores before dawn. However, many shoppers went home empty-handed as products sold out within minutes. As best-selling author Jen Lancaster (The Tao of Martha, Bitter is the New Black) noted on social media, “Everything gone in three minutes. Women waited in line w/hundreds of dollars, left with nothing. How is this good business?”
Customers are probably not the only disappointed ones. The new Target CEO has to be frustrated by today’s perfect storm of low quantities, low prices and high demand that made what should have been a Lilly Pulitzer triumph into the chain’s latest problem.
By Dyanne Weiss