Target's Lilly fail shows flaws in digital strategy

          Laura Heller

It's only been a few days, but the frenzy surrounding Target's Lilly Pulitzer limited collection hasn't abated. The designer's discounted Lilly for Target line launched in collaboration with Target hit stores on Sunday morning, April 19, and sold out in minutes. It bogged down the website and flew off shelves, and it wasn't long before merchandise began turning up on eBay, even as disappointed shoppers turned to social media to voice their displeasure.

But mobile shoppers managed to buy up pieces shortly after midnight on April 19, well in advance of the 8 a.m. release in stores.

The availability of some items on Target's mobile site was apparently a mistake, according to Business Insider. A shopper tweeted that she'd found a pair of Lilly for Target espadrilles on the mobile site and others quickly followed suit. These shoppers discovered that searching for products by name on mobile devices brought users to the desired product page and carried them through to purchase.

Jason Goldberger, president of Target.com and mobile, replied via Twitter, saying a handful of SKUs went live early on mobile. Existing orders would be honored, he said, but new orders would no longer be available.

The issue underscores the difficulty of maintaining multiple platforms and adapting legacy systems to mobile. Target has earned accolades in the past for its mobile sites, especially Cartwheel. But the retailer's two-app strategy has also raised questions about the viability of such an approach. 

Mobile is so critical to Target's growth that CEO Brian Cornell has dubbed the retailer's strategy "Brick and Mobile" and has declared mobile to be Target's front door.

This weekend that front door was unlocked, if not knocked down.

Retailers are learning hard lessons as mobile strategies progress. Target has perhaps learned some harder lessons than others when it comes to digital since its massive data breach in fall of 2013. One might think that experience alone would force management to be cautious, but not Target. The retailer has been moving fast, not just to develop mobile and digital initiatives, but to promote them.

In fact, one might argue that the promotions have gotten ahead of the actual program, that the public relations cart has gotten ahead of the mobile shopping cart.

Target has a lot to brag about, and nobody ever got ahead by being too cautious in this business. Target, in particular, has always taken risks in its merchadising strategy. The Lilly for Target collection has been a runaway success, selling out in minutes. But for every designer partnership home run, there have been a few failures. That those failures haven't stopped Target from innovating are to its credit.

But if mobile is going to be Target's front door, Target needs to be sure that the door is secure and in sync with all other customer-facing touchpoints. -Laura

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