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Lilly-For-Target, And the Power Of Communications

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Oscar Wilde once said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” The French refer to this paradox as “Succès de scandale”, or “success from scandal”. In the spirit of these words, Minneapolis retailer Target once again found itself the recipient of a lot of free mentions in the news, resulting from a 20-minute standstill on its website earlier Sunday morning (the company says the website was never truly “down”). The problem was caused by “Black Friday-like” traffic as consumers rushed to snatch up a limited-time offer for fashions from Lilly Pultizer. Target’s website had enthused that “with this exclusive collection of 250 pieces across multiple categories, you get all the Lilly color you love at Target prices that pop.”

Well, what popped was the Target website itself. And also Twitter. And then Ebay. I did a quick read of #LillyforTarget on the Twitter machine and one that seemed to sum it all up was this: “Don’t call it a collection if it will only be available for 5 minutes on 1 day – that’s called a flash sale @Target #LillyforTarget”. And in the spirit of instant supply-and-demand, Ebay listed 26,407 items on Monday morning for “Lilly Pulitzer for Target”. Holy smokes – talk about free publicity!

There are all kinds of angles to pursue with this little incident. For one, Target’s claim that the traffic was “Black Friday-like” seems a bit off target (pun intended) because as far as I can recall the website didn’t fail on Black Friday. For another, Target seems to have a knack for tripping on its own tie when it comes to customer-facing tech; two other events come immediately to mind. The first is the website cutover in 2011 from Amazon to an in-house version. RSR partner Paula Rosenblum commented on that in a September 2011 Retail Paradox Weekly column entitled Target Does Missoni: A Tale of Two Cities. The other train wreck of course was a big one- the famous credit card breach.

But Paula’s column also talked about a failure in Merchandising – apparently the company dramatically under-bought the much-anticipated Missoni line, and consumers gobbled up the assortment in just hours, which in turn caused Ebay to light up with wildly inflated prices for “Missoni for Target” merchandise.

Sound familiar? Well, Oscar Wilde, PT Barnum, or Mae West might have found all of this publicity to be a good thing, but I’m guessing the there’s a postmortem going on up in Minneapolis as I write this (Monday).

The Power Of Communication

There’s something we can all learn from this, and it’s important – it has to do with communication within the company. In our benchmarks, we ask retailers about organizational challenges that their companies are dealing with as they strive to meet the demands of digitally enabled consumers. One of the big ones that keeps coming up time and again is that the executives involved in developing the brand proposition to consumers need to coordinate! Those execs are Marketing, Merchandising, Supply Chain, and IT & E-Commerce. The problems are well known: Merchandising and Supply Chain are frequently at odds because their goals are different; the Merchant wants to create excitement with new offerings while the supply chain executive is charged with landing the inventory at the lowest cost. The Marketing exec is charged with getting eyeballs on the site and feet into the store. And the IT people are charged with delivering good service levels. You’d think they would talk about what is going to happen when something like the “Lilly for Target” promo is launched, and what they all have to deliver to make the experience a great one for consumers and a profitable one for the company.

Think about it – do you have those conversations in your company?

And then there’s Store Operations. Going back to the “success from scandal” idea, here’s what happened to me. I went to the local Target to check out the Lilly Pulitzer brand. I’m a middle aged guy ferpeetsakes, and still I went to the store to see what all the sturm und drang was about. That’s a win for Target, right?

Wrong. I approached a sales associate in the women’s sportswear area and commented that “you must have had a wild day because of the Lilly Pulitzer launch.” I kid you not, she said “Whah?”, so I explained, “the swimwear stuff”, to which she replied, “is that the brand that is written in cursive?” I gave up and bought some toothpaste and left.

But is reminds me of something we used to do in the pre-POS days – we used to ask the clerks to “memorize” the ad, so that when a customer asked, they would have an answer. In today’s “omni-channel” world, the object of most retailers’ digital efforts is to drive customers to the store. And our research has found that Winners in particular want their employees to be at least as informed as their customers are about products and services. That’s where Store Operations has to come in to the conversation.

Ultimately, this is a to-do for the CEO – if he/she holds all of these executives accountable together for delivering their part of the Brand Proposition, then the outcome will (probably) be a good one. If not, it won’t. Communication has to start at the top. There’s probably plenty of high-level communication going on at Target today! How would your company handle it?

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Articles & Opinions April 21, 2015
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