A tale of two reputations: Lilly Pulitzer for Target
Lilly Pulitzer was a unique woman. In the 1950’s, she opened a drink stand in Florida to sell the juice of the oranges from her husband’s groves. So the story goes, Lilly was constantly covered in juice stains so she designed a shift dress with a bright floral pattern that would hide the mess while she worked. Her dress soon became more popular than her juice so in 1959 she became the president of her own dress making company. Over the next twenty years, everyone who was anyone owned a Lilly Pulitzer dress and the path she created became known as American Resort Wear.
“I didn’t set out to be unusual or different,” said Lilly, “I just wanted to do things my way.”
Lilly left the business in 1984 but her reputation and her designs lived on. She was the queen of happy, bright, comfortable clothing but it’s really her unapologetic attitude that people are buying when they pick up one of her famous shift dresses.
Someone at Target understood this and commissioned a full line of Lilly Pulitzer exclusive prints, clothes, housewares and beauty products. They expected the items to sell well. They didn’t expect Black Friday-esque lines in stores and server crashing hits online. Or did they?
Shortly after the product launch, Target was forced to limit the number of shoppers who could access their online site. By afternoon, they were returning Sold Out messages to customer after customer.
Twitter denizens began to complain:
Everything gone in three minutes. Women waited in line w/hundreds of dollars, left with nothing. How is this good business? #LillyforTarget
— Jen Lancaster (@altgeldshrugged) April 19, 2015
And items started showing up on eBay at 10 times the price.
To the people who bought out all the #LillyforTarget stuff and put it on @eBay – there's a special place in hell for you.
— Emily Severeid-Geiss (@emilybellgeiss) April 19, 2015
Now that the uproar is dying down, customers are no longer asking when items will be back in stock (they won’t), they’re asking how Target could have mishandled such a huge launch. Target is one of the country’s largest retailers both online and off. Why didn’t they beef us the servers for the online rush? Why didn’t they order more product? Why didn’t they limit the number of items one person could buy?
Maybe they didn’t because this story is a better news story than ‘Target Launches Lilly Pulitzer Line and It Was Good.”
It’s ironic that a clothing line dedicated to the casual, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere lifestyle should lead to a demonstration of all that is wrong with American commercialism.
There is a third side to this story; Target just proved that they’re still relevant and that they can attract a millennial audience. With Lilly Pulitzer and deals with other exclusive, high-profile designers, Target has managed to elevate their brand. They’re no longer thought of as a small Walmart; Target is a place where both mother and her teen daughters can shop for trendy items at a reasonable price.
Getting back to Lilly at Target; we all understand the law of supply and demand but does it make sense to turn away millions, maybe billions of dollars in sales just to make a splash? What will customers say if more Lilly products mysteriously turn up at Target stores? Will they forgive and forget if it means owning a Giraffing Me Crazy shift for summer? You bet they will.
Look like Target’s going to walk away from this one with their reputation intact.
The folks who are selling on eBay, however, might want to closely monitor their feedback scores for the next couple of weeks.