Article by Katherine Burek | esPResso Committee Member
This month, Target once again partnered with a high-end designer to launch a limited time collection for the discount retailer. This year’s designer, Lilly Pulitzer, had fans anticipating unique pieces in several departments of the store including women’s, plus size, girls, toddler, home décor and beauty.
The Target website featuring the new Lilly Pulitzer designs was scheduled to go live on April 19 with stores opening at 8 a.m. Prior to the launch date, customers took to social media using the hashtag #LillyforTarget to share their excitement about the designer partnership. However, despite this buzz Target’s chief merchandising and supply chain officer, Kathee Tesija, told Fortune Magazine that the company, which clearly underestimated demand despite weeks of tracking social media, had planned to offer the 250-item limited-time, limited-supply collection for weeks. Instead, the collaboration lasted mere hours.
Before the official Target site went live, Lilly Pulitzer items were released and social media users tweeted links that gave some an early shopping opportunity. Senior Finance Reporter for Business Insider Sally La Roche shared that she was “able to find the Lilly for Target merchandise early by using our smartphones and Googling the exact name of the product” and “able to make purchases too” starting after midnight on April 19.
Other shoppers were unaware that items were already selling out and the volume of online shoppers caused the site to crash before it ever went live. According to Fortune, “The retailer is looking into why the web site, into to which it has invested heavily to update, underperformed.” Social media feedback shifted from positive remarks to instant criticism and backlash. The plus-size collection was exclusively sold online and when the site crashed, shoppers were prevented from making purchases.
Lines at Target stores began forming hours before the 8 a.m. opening and products sold out in minutes. Many customers said Target’s lack of website response and available stock had them frustrated. Target communicated with their customers via its Twitter account, “For those still waiting for #LillyforTarget, we are continuing to work through our website experience. We will share updates as they come.” Folke Lemaitre, founder and CEO of Engagor, a social media monitoring platform, told Social Times that the long response time “only leaves customers frustrated when they are trying to purchase a product they are passionate about” and called the company’s tweets generic.
Target’s lack of a plan to restock the collection is further outraging customers. Target’s public relations team is dealing with a great deal of criticism and must carefully navigate this issue while maintaining the company’s credibility. Looking ahead, the Target team may want to consider creating a crisis communications plan in order to protect the success of future designer collaborations.