Why Is Only Target In Trouble For What Every Other Retailer Is Doing?

Target (NYSE:TGT) is catching heat again over how it identifies products, this time because of a shoe style named Orina—which happens to translate into Spanish as "urine." What's a bit puzzling is that Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN), Neiman Marcus, Barneys New York, Dillard's (NYSE:DDS), Anthropologie (NASDAQ:URBN), Piperlime (NYSE:GPS), Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and other retailers also sell shoes advertised as Orina, and none of them appear to be changing the name, as Target has.

The Orina kerfuffle comes barely a week after Target got bad publicity for describing some dresses as "Manatee Gray"—but only dresses in larger sizes, while in smaller sizes the same color was "Dark Heather Grey." In that case, two different buyers were responsible for the different size ranges, and the smaller-size buyer specified a name change from the industry-standard "manatee" designation.

With the shoes, it's once again a case where suppliers chose the name. In Target's case, it was designer Mossimo who picked that name for the style, but Dolce Vita, Arturo Chiang, Donald J. Pliner and Manolo Blahnik have all used "Orina" for their footwear. (Blahnik, who is Spanish, presumably knew the Spanish word and wasn't worried that anyone might get the wrong idea.)

That leads to a classic channel challenge. If shoe designers promote their products by a name like "Orina," what are retailers to do? If they spot what might be a potentially offensive or ridiculous name in time, they can remove or cover it—but if a customer comes in asking for it and that name isn't on boxes or in the inventory database, the store will likely lose the sale of a product that's in stock.

On the other hand, if the retailer sticks with the manufacturer's naming convention, it risks being attacked for cultural illiteracy or insensitivity.

Still, that long list of retailers who are still selling shoes labeled Orina suggests that this has more to do with Target's newfound reputation (deserved or not) as an insensitive corporate lout than any real concern by the public about the Spanish translation. It may just be a case of Target living up to its name. 

For more:

-See this Consumerist story

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