Coverage: Customers overwhelm Target web site
Apparently flowers are in demand. Customers looking to buy luxury brand Lilly Pulitzer’s Target collection overwhelmed the web site on Sunday as they tried to get a piece of action.
The Wall Street Journal had these details in the story by Paul Ziobro:
Target Corp.’s website went down Sunday morning, overwhelmed by shoppers clamoring for a piece of a Lilly Pulitzer collection that was selling for a fraction of the price of the Palm Beach label’s luxury clothes.
The surge in demand for the 250-item line showed the battered discounter can still summon up some of the “Tar-zhay” glitz that helped the retailer grow into a national chain, but it also underscored that Target still has a way to go before its website is robust enough to fight off rivals like Amazon.com Inc.
The episode also punctuated a new era of social-media marketing in which fads explode quickly, coveted out-of-stock items pop up at three times the price on eBay, and even frustrated tweets and downed websites can feed into the messaging.
“It’s not a marketing ploy, but it is a marketing advantage,” said Dean Crutchfield, an independent brand consultant. “This to me creates more demand.”
Phil Wahba wrote for Time that the company made a lot of shoppers, both in person and online, angry they couldn’t get what they wanted:
Target was hoping for a smooth launch for one of its most highly anticipated designer collaborations in years.
Instead, the discount retailer’s web site was overwhelmed in the early hours on Sunday as legions of fashionistas who had been up overnight tried to snap up Lilly Pulitzer’s fashions, only to encounter delays in the colorful beachwear line’s availability on Target.com and in many case, end up empty-handed. The incident has raised questions as to why the retailer wasn’t fully ready for the onslaught.
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.” The company was limiting the number of customers who could access the site at certain times, and at one point, Target made the site inaccessible for 20 minutes or so to grapple with the heavy traffic.
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.
Because this was a limited collection, Target will not be replenishing its stock, compounding the frustration. There were reports of long Black Friday-like lines at Target’s physical stores, with the Associated Press reporting a line of 300 shoppers at a store in East Harlem in the pre-dawn hours, meaning consumers will have little luck at stores too.
Mike Snider and Carly Mallenbaum wrote for USA Today that the damage to the retailer’s reputation isn’t likely to be harmful in the long-term:
Even though empty-handed consumers heaped vitriol about Target on Twitter during the day, industry observers question whether any substantial backlash will register. 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.”
Still, social media consultant EJ Haust of Minneapolis wondered on Twitter “how many complaints there are, and how (Target) will try to spin (the event) as a ‘success.'”
In advance of Sunday’s launch of the resort-themed designer items, Target began posting updates about its website on Twitter early in the morning. “We know you’re frustrated & we’re sorry,” a tweet posted about 7 a.m. ET said. “We appreciate your patience. You can now shop the #LillyforTarget collection.”
Kavita Kumar wrote in Targets hometown paper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, that:
While many angry shoppers claimed that Target’s website crashed, Thomas said that was not the case. Rather, he said the overwhelming online traffic led the retailer to take steps to manage the situation that slowed the site down. At certain times, Target only allowed some customers to access parts of its website. And at one point, Target made the site inaccessible for about 15 minutes in order to grapple with the traffic and avoid a full-blown crash.
Target never gives an exact time in advance of when its designer partnership collections will be available online since it’s usually a rolling launch as the website updates throughout the early morning hours. While Target had hoped to make the Lilly Pulitzer collection available online by about 3 a.m., it was delayed until 5 a.m. because of high traffic, Thomas said.
“There was extreme interest, extreme demand — traffic that would be on par with Black Friday,” he said.
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,” said Dave Brennan, co-director of the University of St. Thomas Institute for Retailing Excellence.
That’s one of the reasons why designers agree to do them in the first place, so they don’t have to worry about damaging their full-price line while still gaining exposure, he said.
This is just another chink in Target’s reputation, which suffered after a data breach in 2013. Customers are obviously willing to overlook the past transgressions, but will they overlook staying up all night to not get what they wanted? While the small collaborations are meant to generate excitement, if it ends up angering long-term customers it could backfire.