Target sure knows how to throw a party.
In order to announce its next designer partnership, the Minneapolis-based retailer rented out the Four Season Restaurant's pool room in midtown Manhattan. It shrouded the designer's identity in secrecy until guests, including New York fashion editors, arrived, building up the suspense by dangling clues on signs in the hallway leading up to the room.
Once they entered the room, they learned the answer: Lilly Pulitzer, the resortwear line known for its vibrant prints. The brand's founder and namesake, a Palm Beach designer, died in 2013.
Models lounged on hammocks around a small pool in the center of the room. And a handful of exotic birds, including a macaw, were sprinkled throughout the space. (Pulitzer was apparently quite the socialite and often had animals, including monkeys, at her parties.)
Samples of the 250-piece Lilly Pulitzer for Target collection were scattered throughout the room. The limited-edition collaboration has a much broader range of items than offered in Target's more recent designer partnerships that have been more apparel-focused. This collection will span not just women's and girls' clothes, but will also have everything from dishes and towels to hammocks and nail polish.
And, yes, parts of this collection will be available in plus sizes (14-26) online. Target has been criticized in the past for not offering plus sizes in all of its previous collaborations.
Most of the pieces will be under $30, but the collection overall will range in price from $2 to $150. The items will hit stores and Target's website on April 19.
"Ultimately, we were looking for someone to work with who understands print and patterns," said Joshua Thomas, a Target spokesman. "We wanted something cheery and optimistic."
Target also went with bold prints last spring with its designer partnership with Peter Pilotto. Its most recent collaboration with Joseph Altuzarra in the fall had a more sophisticated feel to it.
Lilly Pulitzer's team has been working with Target for about a year on the upcoming collection, Thomas said. He added that it includes 15 exclusive prints, which are updated versions of Pulitzer's designs over of the years.
The conventional wisdom has been that it’s best to wait until late in the holiday season to get the lowest prices. But that wasn’t the case this year when it came to toys, according to analytics firm 360pi.
That firm has been closely tracking the online price changes on thousands of items throughout this holiday season at major retailers. Its most recent study focuses on a sample of over 270 toys, some of which were expected to be the hot sellers of the season and some of which were picked at random.
It found that that the prices on those toys at Target, Toys R Us, Amazon and Walmart were lower on Black Friday than they were on the so-called "Super Saturday," the last Saturday before Christmas, which was expected to be the busiest shopping day of the year. But, the firm added, it wasn’t a huge difference.
"After Super Saturday, with before-Christmas shipping no longer avaialble, we can see retailers returning to their 'regular price,'" 360pi wrote in its report.
Another interesting nugget from the report was that Amazon, Target and Walmart raised prices on those toys on Friday, the day before Super Saturday, and then dropped them on Saturday. That way, one might surmise, the "sales" seemed even bigger on those items.
So when was the best time to buy those toys? Toys R Us, Walmart, and Target had their lowest average online prices at some point after Black Friday during "Cyber Week", the first week of December.
Interestingly enough, Amazon was the msot consistent with its pricing on toys throughout the period from Black Friday to Super Saturday. It was the traditional retailers who had more erratic pricing changes.
Target is continuing its season of aggressive markdowns, from all clothing marked 40% off during a Black Friday promotion, a 20% off Target gift card promo and most recently, a BOGO on its online partnership with Faribault Woolen Mill (buy one at full-price, get one 50% off).
I noticed on Sunday that the entire collection of 10 pieces in 30 variations is discounted (originally priced from $13 to $80). In the past, Target would mark down its limited-edition pieces to its usual markdown cycle--25 or 30% off, then 50%, 70% etc. as it did with designers such as Parul Garung.
I interpreted this to mean that the line might not be selling well, but a Faribault spokesman said otherwise. "Several items have sold out," said Bildsten, "Sales have not been slow. Everything's been consistent with Target's original aggressive sales projections."
I was unable to confirm with Bildsten or Target which items may have sold out. After checking a handful of items, all seemed to be in stock. Bildsten said that Target intended the collection to be a limited edition with no subsequent orders for popular items.
I will update the post as I hear from Target about whether the discounts are permanent and if any items are sold out.
Here’s a surprising factoid: Target doesn’t have e-commerce up and running yet in Canada.
Sure, the Minneapolis-based retailer has a website up north. But you can’t buy anything from it – or, for that matter, find detailed information about all the products it sells in stores.
I asked the folks at Target about it when I was reporting a story last week about the retailer’s troubles to right size its Canadian operations. Eric Hausman, a company spokesman, said a small team is looking at what it would take to have a digital strategy in Canada.
“We know e-commerce needs to be part of our long-term strategy, but right now we need to focus on the basics,” he said.
The retail analysts I spoke with mostly agreed, saying Target Canada needs to work on getting products to its shelves and drawing more traffic to its stores before it should divert its focus to figure out online shopping.
“The worst possible thing you can do is have a website when you have supply chain and inventory issues,” said David Soberman, a marketing professor at the University of Toronto.
But still, some say, the lack of online shopping capabilities shows how unprepared Target was to expand into Canada.
To provide a little context, Canada is apparently a little bit behind the U.S. when it comes to buying stuff behind. But it's starting to catch up.
Canadian retailers have been a little complacent about pursuing online sales because of perceptions that the population is so spread out and that it would be expensive to ship items to them, said Doug Stephens, a Toronto-based retail consultant. But, he added, it is pretty feasible since about 80 percent of the Canadian population lives within 2 hours of the U.S. border.
Now Canadian companies are beginning to wake up to the online opportunity, especially as Amazon has been making a big push into Canada, he said. Wal-Mart also has an active website across the border.
“It’s astonishing” that Target doesn’t have e-commerce in Canada, Stephens said. “It’s such an opportunity for them.”
In the U.S., online sales make up about 2 to 3 percent of Target’s overall sales.
Consumer Reports recently looked at the up side and down sides of Target's Up & Up and other store brands, giving thumbs up or thumbs down. (OK--enough with the UPpity language.) Why consider store brands? The 30 percent savings over name brands, according to Consumer Reports. You can save even more at Target using a Redcard, the occasional Up & Up coupon in the Sunday flier, and Cartwheel mobile coupons.
Coffeemaker: Black & Decker coffeemaker model CM4000S--a 12 cup drip coffeemaker that is exclusive to Target ($40) combines solid brew performance and intuitive operation, the magazine reported. A Black & Decker Single Serve CM620B model ($35) was judged the best of the single serve bunch.
Condiments: Market Pantry ketchup was judged as good as Heinz, Market Pantry mayonnaise as good as Hellman's, and Archer Farms 100% pure maple syrup was judged as having a thick, full, bold flavor.
Frozen veggies: Market Pantry frozen mixed veggies were as crisp and fresh-tasting as Birds Eye.
Paper products: Up & Up full-sheet puddle buster paper towels were good for absorbency but not scrubbing. The Up & Up Aloe and Vitamin E Lotion facial tissues were "exceptionally soft," according to CR. Alternates: Good Housekeeping likes Costco's Kirkland Signature paper towels but my beef is that they don't come in choose-a-size yet. GH also likes Walgreen's Nice! facial tissues with lotion at 2 cents per tissue.
Snacks: Market Pantry Peanut Sweet & Salty Granola Bars, Archer Farms Jumbo cashews, Archer Farms Trail Mix and Market Pantry vanilla ice-cream were all highly rated.
Pain relievers: Up & Up Ibuprofen (generic Advil), Up & Up Naproxen (generic Aleve), and generic Allegra were all significantly cheaper than store versions at Walgreens and Rite Aid. CR did not compare prices with Wal-Mart (Equate brand), which is usually slightly cheaper than Target.
Detergents: Good Housekeeping and Consumer Reports have long raved about Wal-Mart's Great Value dishwashing powder (10 cents per load), but GH also liked Target's Up & Up 2X HE Fresh Breeze liquid laundry detergent (11 cents per large load).
Target's Chefmate cookware ($55 for 16 pieces), Market Pantry Classic Roast coffee, Market Pantry Caesar salad dressing, Up & Up dish packs dishwasher detergent and its Cube Merlot wine (now sold in Otsego, Minn.) were judged not worth buying.
Target isn't "nickel and diming" its customers lately. You may have noticed that almost each week in its Sunday newspaper flier it offers a coupon for $5 to $20 off a specified category. This week it's $5 off a meat purchase of $20 or more (fresh, frozen or deli) and $5 off S-sport shoes. Last week it was $15 off a $50 purchase in the pet dept. (food, litter and treats) and $10 off a home furnishings purchase of $50 or more. Three weeks ago it was $20 off a $100 purchase in the baby department.
Pick up an extra copy of the circular w/ the coupon at the service desk or get a text on your smartphone while you're in the store (check signs in the highlighted department for the number).
Target hasn't cut back on promotional gift cards with purchase either. Recent amounts have varied from $5 to $100 with the purchase of Apple products, pet products, Advil, Charmin, Clorox and Burt's Bees.
But the promo that really surprised me is today's $10 off a store policy, not a product. Through Saturday, Aug. 2, you can get $10 off an online order of $40 or more when you choose store pickup. That's a discount that's been promoted before but never discounted, said Target spokesman Eddie Baeb. He said the store pickup consistently makes up more than 10 percent of Target's online sales, but the company offered the promotion "to drive more engagement and use," since it debuted nationally in November 2013.
Kathee Tesija, Target’s executive vice president of merchandising, said late last year that the retailer would be offering "some eye-popping, irresistible deals" during the holidays and beyond. Eight months and many circulars later, I'm inclined to agree that the deals do seem better. The downside? Consumers have to spend more to get the savings, which hurts lower-income shoppers.
But I'd rather get a $5 savings in one fell swoop than have to collect ten 50 cent coupons.