Ok, I admit it. I’m one of the crazy people that got sucked into the Missoni for Target mayhem that ensued last week. I saw the ads and couldn’t resist the temptation to score some high fashion at bargain basement prices. Well, I wasn’t alone. On Tuesday, September 13, an unprecedented frenzy was unleashed as shoppers clamored to get their hands on the Missoni for Target line. Stores sold out in minutes, and the Target website went down.

Target made the exclusive, limited-edition, 400 piece collection available online at 6 am EST, nearly 2 hours before the stores opened their doors. It took only 107 minutes for the Target website to crash.

Target had this to say:
“Due to an overwhelming amount of traffic to target.com, as a result of the Missoni for Target launch, our website has been inaccessible throughout portions of the day. Target.com is seeing greater item demand than we do on a typical Black Friday and the excitement for this limited-time designer collection is unprecedented. We are slowly bringing the site back online to ensure we can provide a positive shopping experience to our guests.

The line was scheduled to be in stores until October 22, but most items sold out in only 30 minutes. The next bit of bad news came in the form of eBay where nearly 22,000 Missoni for Target items were listed for sale by the next morning. Stores were empty, the site was still down and customers were livid. Meanwhile, Target was still running promotional ads for the line during prime time TV. The @TargetStyle twitter feed was out of control with angry fashionistas airing their frustration. In the next few days things went from bad to worse as customers received emails that their orders were delayed and some were flat out canceled.

How can we avoid a recipe for disaster like this from occurring in our businesses? I’ve outlined 3 things to consider:

1. Prepare: Target had hyped the collection for months and had ads in magazines and publications. They even set up a pop-up shop during New York Fashion Week. The special advance sale of Missoni products was planned for Sept. 8-10, but on the first day, everything was gone in just six hours. This should have been a big heads up. Demand was huge and supply was limited. At this point someone should have developed a plan to anticipate different scenarios of what might happen if the demand across all stores was going to be like it was in New York. And, the website problems came just three weeks after Target, which had been relying on Amazon’s back end for its website, switched to its own platform. Maybe not the best time to make such a big change?

Lesson to be learned: When preparing for any type of new product release or special offer that you’ve created buzz about, ensure you’re prepared to deal with it. Order enough inventory, hire some extra staff, open early and have a game plan if things go awry. And, if you have overwhelming demand, be prepared to offer an alternative or risk disappointment.

2. Set Limits: Oh the pain Target could have avoided if they had only set limits on the number of items or the number of the same items customers could purchase. I doubt there would be 22,000 items on eBay for 5x the retail price had they implemented this simple strategy.


Lesson to be learned: Limit the number of items that can be purchased by a single customer. Toys R Us implemented this during the holiday season of 2010 when consumers were rabid trying to get Zuzu pet hamsters.

3. Test Religiously: Being in the technology business we can certainly relate to website downtimes and issues – but you must be prepared for peak shopping days and order overload. In the days that followed the launch, Target continued to cause themselves more issues by sending customers emails stating their orders had been delayed. This required customers to log in and approve the delay, otherwise, their orders would be canceled. But when customers tried to approve their delays, they received an error message stating they weren’t authorized to approve it. This sent off another wave of doubt, confusion and anger.

Lesson to be learned: Target could and should have anticipated and tested their site, messaging, and user experience prior to a launch of this magnitude. Ensure you leave no stone unturned and test every detail of the experience your customers will have in your store, on your website or interacting with you via social media.What other lessons can we learn from Target? Share your thoughts.

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