It seems everybody and her sister wanted get a Lilly Pulitzer piece at Tar-zhay yesterday, causing the website to go offline for about 20 minutes to regulate the flow of traffic before the exclusive new collection sold out online, as it did at many of the chain’s retail stores. The shoppers were in a tizzy over a 250-piece collection of 15 prints at prices far more attractive than normal for the label.
“At about 1 a.m. Eastern time, Target told customers via its Twitter feed that its ‘website is updating and will be shoppable soon.’ Then, two hours later, Target said that ‘due to overwhelming excitement’ for the Pulitzer line, it was adjusting Target.com — only to tell shoppers an hour later that it was ‘continuing to work through our website experience,’” reportsFortune’s Phil Wahba.
“Finally, at about 6 a.m., the collection was available on line, but sold out so quickly that many night owl shoppers couldn’t buy anything, provoking a lot of anger that spilled over into social media,” Wahba continues.
The situation was the same in the world of bricks and mortar and parking lots.
“Lines started forming as early as 5 a.m. outside Target stores across the country for the colorful collection,” writes CNN’s Emanuella Grinberg. “Pictures on social media showed lines extending into parking lots. Other images showed racks completely emptied of inventory within minutes of doors opening.”
There were “colorful mosh pits of Southern belles in stores everywhere,” writes Tiffany Holland for the Roanoke (Va.) Times. “The anticipated demand created a Black Friday — or more like Pink and Green Sunday — atmosphere in Targets all over the country ….”
“‘Didn’t realize @eBay was the third partner with the @LillyPulitzer @Target collaboration,’ public relations adviser Carolyn Blackman tweeted,” reports James Covert for the New York Post. “Don’t call it a collection if it will only be available for five minutes on one day — that’s called a flash sale,’” another frustrated shopper tweeted.
“Target has been building buzz for the Palm Beach-inspired Lilly Pulitzer line, setting up a temporary shop in New York’s Bryant Park and running a juice bar, offering free manicures and providing Ping-Pong tables,” writes Paul Ziobro for the Wall Street Journal.
“The company also promoted the line in television ads that started last week. Based on how quickly the collection is selling, [Target spokesman Joshua Thomas] said much of Target’s paid advertising will end Sunday …”
“Even though empty-handed consumers heaped vitriol about Target on Twitter during the day, industry observers question whether any substantial backlash will register,” write Mike Snider and Carly Mallenbaum, for USA Today. “Brian Sozzi, the CEO of Belus Capital Advisors, called the event ‘typical Target’ for high-profile designer launches with ‘tight supply, done purposely to stoke demand and Internet chatter.’”
“It’s not a marketing ploy, but it is a marketing advantage,” independent brand consultant Dean Crutchfield tells the WSJ’s Ziobro. “This to me creates more demand.”
Along those lines, writes Kavita Kumar in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “while many customers came away with a sour taste in their mouth, some retail experts said it shouldn’t leave a lasting bruise on Target’s reputation. After all, these events are designed to build hype.”
“Customers have to realize that products are going to be in short supply,” Dave Brennan, co-director of the University of St. Thomas Institute for Retailing Excellence, tells Kumar.
Indeed, as Minnesota Public Radio’s Martin Moylan points in a piece that has nothing to do with yesterday’s perhaps predictable events, “one of the strengths of Target is that it knows its customers pretty well. The retail giant has long tracked their purchases, looking for clues about other things a shopper might want to buy.”
Moylan’s piece is about Target’s “plans to create an internal center for data analysis [that] … would yield more personalized email marketing, more tailored promotions and personalized offers delivered through the company's Cartwheel smartphone app, as well as its forthcoming test of iBeacons in stores later this year. (See Chuck Martin’s “Mobile Shop Talk” piece about retailers tripling their use of beacons this year.)
Still, for all the attention Target may be receiving for the frenzy it engineered, it’s well aware that it let its customers down in the execution. “We know you’re frustrated and we’re sorry,” it tweeted.
“It’s all pretty ironic considering Target had a similar experience in 2011 with its Missoni for Target collection,” points out Nedra Rhone for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s shopping blog. She then offers fours suggestions on how to get your hands on some of the items from “[hitting] the least-likely-to-sell-out-of-Lilly Target store that you can find” to lowering your expectations from popular items like jump suits to something like a hair tie.
Or, hold on for a couple of years and get it cheap on eBay — no market is as cyclical as fashion, right? Start digging out those belled sleeves and flared pants of the ’70s.