Amid Backlash, Lessons From Target’s “Missoni Mayhem”

Marketing experts told USA Today that that the shopping frenzy taught Target and its competitors a valuable lesson: Even though the economy is still in rough shape, shoppers are in the market for reasonably priced luxury goods.

Target Corporation received some backlash after the Tuesday release of its limited-edition Missoni line crashed its Web site and left some would-be shoppers empty-handed-but reports indicate that the fast sell-out met the company's goals and sent a clear message that consumers are in the market for bargain-priced luxury items.

Target spokesman Joshua Thomas told Star Tribune blogger Thomas Lee that the Minneapolis-based retailer won't be replenishing empty shelves with more of the family-owned Italian high-fashion brand. The 400-piece made-for-Target line featured clothing, home accessories, footwear, and luggage.

But Lee contends that Missoni wasn't about sales, despite the fact that it drove some; it was about creating buzz and excitement because of the scarcity of product.

“What Target has accomplished can't be overstated,” Lee wrote in his blog. “Given the weak economy, when was the last time you've seen images of people rushing into stores to buy that can't-live-without-item?”

Some marketing experts told USA Today that the shopping frenzy taught Target and its competitors a valuable lesson: Even though the economy is still in rough shape, reasonably priced luxury items shouldn't be counted out for the holidays. The big question, according to the newspaper, is: Who's next to give designer bargains a try?

“This talks to how people still have a taste for luxury brands, even if they can't afford them,” Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing and author of Putting the Luxe Back in Luxury, told the national newspaper. She added that many people might not have the cash to shop on New York's Fifth Avenue, but most can afford a trip to Target.

John Long, retail strategist at Kurt Salmon, echoed Danziger: “When you develop the right product at the right price, consumers will move heaven and earth to get it,” he told USA Today.

Thomas told USA Today that Tuesday's “Missoni mayhem” was “unprecedented,” and the company said that demand was higher that day than it is on a typical Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. The newspaper reported that numerous celebrities tweeted about the launch, including singer Jessica Simpson and Cougar Town actress Busy Phillips.

After having previously outsourced much of its online service to Amazon.com, Target recently assumed full control over its online operations with the launch of a new Web site. Within a few hours of Missoni products becoming available on the site Tuesday morning, the site crashed for at least two hours and worked only intermittently for several more after that. There were reported to be long lines at many brick-and-mortar stores as well.

Some marketing experts told The New York Times that Target's Web site blunder was amateurish but said it wouldn't permanently hinder Target's reputation.

“It's a little bit embarrassing for one of the nation's largest retailers to have a Web site that can't support a rush-it's not like they're any strangers to rushes,” Ian Schafer, chief executive of digital marketing firm Deep Focus, told the newspaper.

Target serves customers at 1,755 stores in 49 states nationwide and on its Web site. It is Minnesota's second-largest public company based on revenue, which totaled $67.4 billion in its most recently completed fiscal year.