A day after a shopping frenzy over Target’s Lilly Pulitzer line, jilted shoppers who failed to snag anything had a lot of questions for the Minneapolis-based retailer.
And they weren’t shy about asking them.
Why isn’t Target restocking the stores? Why are people still seeing TV commercials promoting the collection if the stuff is already mostly sold out? Why didn’t Target stop people from buying cartfuls of items and then reselling them on eBay at higher prices?
And why, oh why, didn’t Target order more stuff to begin with?
“Why make such a big promotion about it and then put it in dribs and drabs in the store?” asked Roberta Marcus, 74, who waited more than an hour outside a store in Florida only to come out empty-handed. “It was unconscionable for them to do that.”
It might be easy to see the complaints that have flooded social media and assume the limited-time collection of 250 items in the Lilly Pulitzer for Target line was a disaster for Target. But most retail experts say it was just the opposite.
“This was a grand slam home run for Target,” said Marshal Cohen, an analyst with the NPD Group. “Yes, they could have bought more, but what if they did? The fact that you can’t get it makes it that much more coveted. … And it makes consumers say, ‘I’m not going to miss this next time.’ ”
The fact that it mostly sold out and customers are bemoaning the fact they didn’t get any of it is great, he said. And so, too, is the fact that the frenzy nearly crashed Target’s website when the collection appeared Sunday morning.
“It gets so many people talking about Target again,” he said. “It gets Target back on the fashion map.”
The negative buzz, he added, will eventually blow over.
The overwhelming demand for the line also highlights how unpredictable these designer collaborations can be and how ordering inventory for them can be more of an art than a science.
While Target has done more than 150 designer collaborations, few have generated as much interest as Lilly Pulitzer, a Palm Beach-inspired resortwear brand that has a devoted following. It rivals the Black Friday-like frenzy that Target saw with a 2011 Missoni collaboration that quickly sold out in stores and brought its website down for several hours.
After many customers complained that Target should have had more Missoni products, the retailer overcorrected the following year and ordered lots of inventory for a holiday partnership with Neiman Marcus. Target executives were certain that collection would be a blockbuster. But it ended up getting a more lukewarm response, and Target soon found itself marking down the plentiful items by 50 percent.
Since then, other Target designer partnerships have seen a handful of items sell out on Day One, but most have had plenty left in stores for a few weeks.
“I don’t think there’s ever been one of these exclusives where they’ve nailed it” when it comes to ordering the right inventory, said Brian Yarbrough, an analyst with Edward Jones. “It either blows out of the store or it does just OK.”
The interest is difficult to gauge, he added. It’s not like holiday shopping, when retailers have years of sales history to have a general idea of what shoppers will buy. Instead, each designer collaboration is with a different brand so there’s not as much of a precedent, he said.
Target places the orders well before it announces the partnerships, and there’s usually not enough time to change the order once the retailer sees the response.
“We have to decide how big it will be,” Kathee Tesija, Target’s chief merchandising officer, told the Star Tribune in a recent interview. “If it’s a limited-time [partnership], we typically don’t have time to go back and make more.”
And the buzz before the items hit stores is not always a good barometer for how well a collection will end up selling. Sometimes a designer partnership will generate a lot of chatter in fashion circles, but then shoppers aren’t super interested in actually buying it.
“We never know until it happens,” Tesija said.
While Target doesn’t have any Lilly Pulitzer for Target merchandise left to restock stores, the company said it does expect some items to recirculate in stores and online after returns start coming in.
The collection had a relatively short return window of 14 days.
Target has limited the number of items shoppers can buy at one time for some designer collaborations but didn’t do so this time. Spokesman Joshua Thomas said that was because the collection included items for outdoor entertaining and Target expected shoppers would want to be able to buy not only plates and bowls, but matching napkins and glasses to complete a set.
But the downside was that thousands of items quickly began showing up on eBay at marked up prices. By Monday, more than 26,000 items came up in response to a search for “Lilly Pulitzer for Target.”
That number only accounts for about 1.5 percent of the total inventory, Thomas said, so the vast majority of people apparently bought the products for themselves.
“Still, I know there’s frustration about people not being able to get their hands on the collection and to see it being resold at a higher profit online — that’s disappointing to us, too,” Thomas said.
But he added that it does reinforce the idea that Target’s designer partnerships become like collectors’ items.
As for those catchy television commercials touting the Lilly Pulitzer line that have been rubbing salt in the wounds of disappointed shoppers, Thomas said Monday was their last day.