At 7 a.m. Tuesday, Meghan Jain was lined up outside of the Target (TGT) on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, N.Y., in hopes of scoring some pieces from the Missoni for Target line. She was hardly the only one.
As soon as the metal doors began to roll up at 8 a.m., those in line behind her rushed forward and began to crawl underneath the grate. Jain describes the scene that followed as a "mass mob."
"People were running around pushing two shopping carts at once and throwing in everything they could find," the 23-year-old from San Francisco says. "Someone snatched a sweater out of my hand. Another woman holding a baby yelled at me and flicked me off when I passed her in a crowded aisle. I think she thought I was trying cut the line for home decor."
Jain says she was "horrified" by the scene and left after 45 minutes with only two pairs of Missoni tights. She's considering returning them or re-selling them on eBay (EBAY).
On the day of the Missoni launch, Target seemed as surprised by the mobs as Jain. As stores sold out all over the country -- both in cities like L.A. and small towns like Rock Hill, S.C. -- the Target website also crashed from the surge of customers, remaining down for most of the day. On Wednesday morning, it was still down, with a message citing "unusually high traffic" as the reason.
In the meantime, early-bird shoppers are listing their finds online at above-retail prices. By Wednesday afternoon, eBay had 27,870 Missoni for Target items listed, up from 1,473 just 24 hours ago. A navy maxi dress went for $202.50 with 13 bids. Its retail price: $64.99.
If Target's pre-launch buzz has backfired to some degree, it's only because it was so aggressively, strategically spawned. The Missoni for Target ad campaign began earlier this month with a commercial starring granddaughter Margherita Missoni on a retro spy mission through 1960s-era Milan. Pictures of the collection were then "leaked" periodically on the Tumblr of a fictional Italian girl named Marina, supposedly hired by Missoni to blog about its line.
The crown buzz-generator was the Fashion Week pop-up store last week in New York City's Bryant Park. Hoards of shoppers lined up around two New York City blocks and waited as long as four hours to get their hands on the collection. Everything sold out within 10 hours.
By the time Missoni hit the chain's stores Tuesday, shoppers were ready to get up early to have a swig of Margherita. Or fight for one, if necessary.
Retro Hits the Bulls Eye
Even with the help of a huge brand name, this kind of hype is not easy to manufacture.
Karl Lagerfeld, the Chanel designer responsible for the first-ever mass-market designer collaboration with H&M in 2004, recently designed a line for Macy's that paled in comparison to Target's in terms of buzz. That's not to say it didn't sell: Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren reported that he was astonished by the line's rate of sell-throughs. Still, the collection did not lure shoppers into early-morning lines or mass purchases for eBay resale, as Missoni for Target did.
Part of the reason Target's collaborations are so successful is because of the store's image as a low-price retailer, explains Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail. "The perceived gap between the retailer and the designer status is important," she says. "Macy's already sells a lot of nice designers, so Karl Lagerfeld seems less extraordinary."
Not all of Target's 18 total collaborations have generated mobs, either. The most recent one before Missoni, Justin Timberlake's William Rast line from December 2010, sold quietly and without fanfare.
The retro look and iconic status of the Missoni brand is unique, says Laura Root, a design consultant who researches fabrics for homeware brands. "The colorful fabrics and zigzags are recognizable and distinct. They are maybe a bit exaggerated, but fun. It's for young and trendy consumers who have never been able to wear Missoni, but know what it is."
Root compares the Missoni collection to Target's Liberty of London line from spring 2010. Like Missoni, Liberty of London is famous for its patterns -- in its case, retro floral and paisley prints. And like the current collection, Liberty of London for Target opened with a Fashion Week pop-up store in Bryant Park. In the days following the launch, its flowery clothing and home decor also sold-out almost immediately.
Still, Liberty of London never crashed Target's website. As of Wednesday afternoon, the website was back up, though many of its products are sold out. On the TargetStyle Facebook page, which the company uses to communicate with customers, hundreds of angry shoppers are reporting delayed and cancelled orders that were already placed and confirmed.
Some shoppers are now turning against the company for not having planned for the launch better, for allowing speculators to buy hundreds of items at once, and for not apologizing for delayed orders.
As Niel Stern, a senior partner at McMillan Doolittle Retail Consultants explains, there's not much a company can do once they have miscalculated demand. "Supply chains and orders can't be altered that quickly," he says.
"There is clearly a fine line between wanting to create scarcity and disappointing customers. [Target] has fallen on the wrong side of the gradient. Now it's a question of PR and crisis control," says Stern.
Target's official stance is that Tuesday was great launch. On the Today Show Wednesday Morning, Target executive Dustee Jenkins spoke of the "unprecedented excitement" for the line, its celebrity fans and 40 magazine mentions. Of the lack of inventory, she advised customers should call their local Targets to see when fresh items would be trickling in.
The appearance didn't go over well with disappointed customers. As one TargetStyle commentator wrote, "I am very disappointed in the Target PR person who appeared on the Today Show wearing Missoni and giggling about the disaster that was yesterday."
"I personally had been very excited about the release, and now I'm over it," she continued. "One thing is FOR SURE--I WILL NOT buy one thing from the eBay vultures who have ruined this for all of us."