Hunter boots at Target for $40 really were too good to be true.
The Minneapolis-based retailer said Friday that, after delaying the sale of women's tall rain boots in last weekend's launch of a limited-time partnership with Hunter, it won't sell them at all because of production and quality problems.
It's the latest — and some analysts say the biggest — problem with one of Target's much-hyped collaborations with a big-name fashion brand. In some previous tie-ups, high demand caused problems. Quick sellouts disappointed customers at times and its website nearly crashed when products went on sale with its Lilly Pulitzer partnership in 2015.
"It's a big mess-up," Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, said. "People get annoyed at websites crashing and limited availability, but they understand that. But when you promise something that people are looking forward to, and it's the jewel in the crown of this special collection, people are less forgiving of that."
The women's tall rain boots were just a handful of the 300-plus items included in Target's latest highly anticipated tie-up with an outside brand. But they are Hunter's signature product, creating a look for which the British company is well-known. Hunter did not immediately return a request for comment.
While not identical to Hunter's higher-quality boots priced around $150, the mass-produced factory versions to be sold by Target were highly coveted since they were to be sold for $40.
In a statement, Mark Tritton, Target's chief merchandising officer, acknowledged that the company was disappointing many customers.
"After thorough evaluation, we've decided not to make this item available," he said. "We're very sorry, but the production simply didn't meet our standards, Hunter's standards, or the standards we want guests to have when they shop at Target."
He said that Target is working with another firm to recycle the boots.
"While this collaboration has brought joy to millions of guests who have shopped it over the past week, the risk of further disappointing our guests is a risk we aren't willing to take," he added. "Rest assured we'll look into how this happened, and we'll work hard to ensure it doesn't happen again … We promise to do better next time."
Saunders said it's surprising the issue wasn't caught earlier since such products are usually tested quite thoroughly before being produced in bulk.
"It's kind of odd and it does make you wonder what's wrong with them," he said. "It must have been a quite serious defect."
But he added that it was wise for Target to pull them, even if it ends up being a costly mistake, rather than selling subpar items or waiting a few more weeks to get better products made because by that time the rest of the Hunter collection will be mostly picked over or gone.
When the Hunter for Target products first went on sale last Saturday, a couple of people said on social media that they were able to find the women's tall rain boots in stores, but employees told them they could not sell them and denied their purchases. One woman who apparently managed to buy a pair posted a picture to Twitter of the boots being of uneven heights and crooked.
In addition to boots, the Hunter collection at Target also includes backpacks, raincoats, apparel and various other accessories. Kids' boots, men's boots and women's ankle boots did not have any delays or production issues. The products are expected to be available through June 14 if they aren't sold out before then.
Joshua Thomas, a Target spokesman, said the rest of the line has seen strong sales, with some items selling out on the first day, making it one of Target's most popular collaborations.
Saunders agreed that the rest of the Hunter partnership seems to have been going well so far.
"It puts a dull note on what has otherwise been to date a very successful collection for Target," he said. "The saving grace of it outside of the women's boots issue is the kidswear especially seems to have been extremely popular."
These design collaborations have become a hallmark of Target. It has had more than 175 partnerships since it first launched the concept in 1999. Other recent ones include tie-ups with Victoria Beckham and Marimekko.
While these collections are not usually a big contributor to Target's overall sales, the retailer sees their value more in creating buzz about the brand and bolstering its reputation as a destination for cheap-chic fashion.