Crashed Servers, Depleted Inventory and Angry Customers Oh My
On September 13, 2011, Target Inc.’s ‘limited’ release of a Missoni line of merchandise, aptly named “Missoni for Target,” went on sale—in stores and online. In simple Economics 101 descript, “demand exceeded supply.” And, fast! By early morning, 6:00AM ET to be exact, the entire Target website went down. And, shortly following, stores sold out. Early-waking budget fashion-istas’ (described as mostly female, college-educated, 28-40 year old, value shoppers) with high hopes of donning the zig-zag patterned merch including everything from plates-to-clothes were abruptly, derailed.
Here’s what customers saw online (right); a stuffed dog. It read: “Woof! We are suddenly extremely popular. You may not be able to access our site momentarily due to unusually high traffic. Please stay here and we’ll try to get to you in as soon as we can! We’re up and running here.”
The company then provided three choices below the announcement for online customers to click on: “red card,” “weekly ad,” and “find it in a store.” Some eventually had success by noon, although it wasn’t the usual main site they were navigating. And, then the site went down again. Customers were being routed through other online portals, like eBay, for shopping and online purchases. Not cool. Especially considering that the Missoni for Target’s accessible value and pricing was what made it so attractive in the first place.
In-store experiences were not that much different as popular sizes were quickly scooped up and not re-stocked. The Orlando Sentinel reported shoppers lining up outside the stores before openings, as many as 100 deep at some stores, and blowing through with shopping carts, loading up on everything from Missoni boots to bedding and bikes. Most stores opened at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m., and within an hour much of the merchandise was gone. Gone!
The company Tweeted apologies throughout the occurrence and social and broadcast media waves were in a frenzied blaze!
I asked myself a few simple questions during the several hour-long may-lay:
- “Why all this rage? Do customers really need the merchandise today? I mean it’s not like a major holiday was approaching?”
- “How could Target plan inventory so poorly for such an event especially considering the advertising and promotions that preceded the release?” “Clearly they must have thought through a scenario like this.”
- “Are Target’s website servers that vulnerable and incapable of accommodating large surges in traffic?” “What happens on Black Friday?”
- “And, why is there a Target Communications person speaking on the Today show at 7AM—aren’t those interviews and appearances planned way in advance?”
What did Target do right?
Being a perpetual skeptic, or quite possibly the new product of ‘too-much’ reality television, a part of me likes to think the whole debacle was brilliantly planned for the PR. Let’s rewind this footage and look at it more closely:
- Advertising and Promotion Helped Create Demand. Several weeks in advance of the release of Missoni for Target, Target Inc. launched an onslaught of well produced TV ads and integrated media promotions. Social media networks buzz, chatter increases and demand was instantaneously created; most of this media is measurable.
- A Seense of Urgency Drove Immediate Interest and Response. The products included in Missoni for Target were limited; 400 items to be exact, as were the dates/locations they would be made available—September 13 through October 22 at 1,762 Target stores in the U.S. and online.
- Sales & Distribution Alternatives Flourished. Following the site crash, Missoni for Target on eBay saw traction at higher prices, better margins and meeting a further segmented audience’s consumer demand.
- PR Efforts and Social Media Chatter Thrusted the Campaign into the Mass Media Stratosphere. The Target site went down at 6AM and it was reported as a headline news story on the Today Show at 7. Coincidence? Hmmmnn. Check out the Facebook post I came across (right) with a response from Target Style themselves. Is forbidden fruit sweeter? Perhaps if it has a zigzagged pattern on it, it is.
What could Target have done better?
Assuming this was not a planned event, the fact that the entire Target site went down and likely resulted in non-Missoni for Target shopping customers going elsewhere, is not good no matter how much PR value they received. Perhaps Target should have considered a separate eCommerce site for this product line, specifically.
Upsetting loyal and ready-to-purchase customers is never advised either. As illustrated by that Facebook post, the angry word travels fast and can severely damage a brand quickly. Blogger ZogMedia suggests that opening up a Target advance-shopping queue for most loyal shoppers would have illustrated good will, while monitoring demand.
What Target does next could bring a subsequent wave of success and/or PR. Imagine if Target were to offer value add for registered Target for Missoni customers ultimately leading to an up-sell or in-store traffic?
What can be learned from the Missoni for Target event?
Businesses of all sizes can take note of this event and learn from it. Here are a few suggestions:
- Focus on marketing and creating demand. Timing is everything. Anticipate selling seasons. Market and promote extensively when appropriate and be sure to reach and saturate your market with the right message.
- Plan ahead. Plan ahead. Plan ahead. Expect results of great success, failure or everything in between. Run what/if scenarios on how you would handle each. Be prepared.
- Monitor social media chatter. It’s likely with all of the social media content responders and service representatives, that Target saw some of this coming in advance. Be sure to communicate with your customers. Apologize if you’ve done something that upset them. And, make right with them soon so not to lose them and/or damage your reputation.
- Events of all circumstance have PR potential. There is a saying in the PR world that goes “love me, hate me, but remember my name.” I’m not sure what the value is of the PR that Target received through all of this but it’s likely the return on their PR investment was and will be pretty tremendous.
About the Author
Angelo Biasi is General Manager of SMART Marketing Solutions, LLC, a leading full-service integrated marketing company in Naples, FL since 2001. He has helped create and execute marketing plans and integrated marketing solutions for companies such as Playtex, Bic, Rogaine, Tauck, and over 35 colleges and universities, to name a few. Angelo has an MBA in Marketing from the University of Connecticut and teaches Marketing at New York University where he has for over five years. For more information or to learn more, email him at abiasismartmarketingllccom (abiasismartmarketingllccom) , visit www.smartmarketingllc.com or call 239.963.9396.