Target Corp. was upended by its own marketing power Tuesday when the much-anticipated Missoni clothing and home goods line, the discount chain's biggest limited-designer collection to date, sold out at most stores and online in less than a day. The promotion was supposed to last for six weeks.
The Missoni for Target collection, made up of 400 items with the Italian luxury design house's hallmark zig-zag patterns, was slated to run from Tuesday through Oct. 22 at 1,762 Target stores in the U.S. and online. But buzz in the fashion blogosphere leading up to the opening, stoked by Target's advertising campaign, created what Target officials described as "unprecedented" demand.
Shoppers lined up outside the stores before openings, as many as 100 deep at some stores, and blew through with shopping carts, loading up on everything from Missoni boots to bedding to bikes. Most stores opened at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m., and within an hour much of the merchandise was gone. The Target.com website also crashed and was still not fully functional early Tuesday evening.
The madness mirrored the frenzy on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that typically ranks as the retail industry's biggest shopping day of the year, said Joshua Thomas, a spokesman for the Minneapolis-based retailer.
"Many of our stores are sold out or close to sold out of the collection," said Thomas. "We've never seen anything like this before."
There are no plans to restock the shelves beyond what Target stores received for the opening day, he said.
Within hours of Target's Missoni opening on Tuesday, eBay sellers began posting Target's Missoni merchandise online at inflated prices. A chevron zig-zag tote bag, originally $34.99, was listed for more than $100 on eBay, with bids starting at $50.
Brand consultant Laura Ries said it's rare for a giant retailer to get caught so unprepared. The big challenge now is for Target to pull its advertising as quickly as possible and to communicate to its customers that the merchandise they had expected to find at Target for the next month is no longer there, she said.
"It's the fault of Target for not having enough of it," said Ries."People don't expect that to happen at Target."
Target apologized on its Twitter account Tuesday for the difficulties with its website. And throughout the day, Target.com showed a picture of Target's mascot dog saying, "Woof! We are suddenly extremely popular. You may not be able to access our site momentarily due to unusually high traffic. Please stay here and we'll try to get you in as soon as we can!"
At a Target store in Glenview, shoppers lined up outside the building by 7:30 a.m. Tuesday waiting for the 8 a.m. opening. Most merchandise was sold out by 9 a.m.
Shoppers arriving in Glenview at their noon lunch hour were stunned to see colorful Missoni signs above empty shoe shelves and bare clothing racks. All that was left at noon was an assortment of cosmetics bags, one small children's floral trench coat for $39.99 and one pair of children's rain boots for $29.99.
"I am surprised it is all gone by noon," said Maureen Rubenstein, of Glencoe, who had come to buy Missoni clothing for her daughter. "It's not usually like this."
Another fashionable shopper dressed in black jeans and high heels chatted into her cellphone as she walked among the empty clothing racks, telling the listener with dismay that there was nothing left.
Target had been working with Italian luxury knitwear design house Missoni for the past year to develop the line of 400 items. The Missoni family viewed the deal as a way to bring one of Italy's best-known luxury brand names to a wider audience.
A U.S. spokesman for Missoni declined to comment, referring media inquiries to Target.
Missoni knit wear, from skirts to ponchos, typically retails for more than $1,000 in boutiques and luxury department stores. At Target, most items were less than $40 and included knit dresses, tights, cardigans, rain boots, bedding, luggage, dinnerware and, even, iPad and iPod covers. Missoni's zig-zags appeared on everything, from melamine appetizer plates (starting at $2.99) to a four-piece sectional furniture set ($599.99.)
Target previewed the Missoni line last week with a pop-up store in Manhattan that was scheduled to stay open three days but shut down after one day when it ran out of inventory.
The discount retailer promoted the collection with inserts in Vogue and other fashion magazines, a blog, a 25-foot doll in bright Missoni knits during New York's Fashion Week and TV ads spoofing 1960s caper movies. (The Missoni brand, founded in 1953, rose to popularity in the 1960s.)
Even TV news host Katie Couric chimed in on the preopening buzz Monday on Twitter, exclaiming, "A little retail therapy, anyone? #Missoni comes to @target tomorrow!"
Target pioneered the concept of selling sophisticated design at a mass-market price more than a decade ago, when the retailer hired architect Michael Graves to bring some flair to teapots and toasters. But it has faced increased competition.
Rival retailers have moved into Target's cheap-chic territory in recent years. Kohl's Corp. partnered with designer Vera Wang, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. did a deal with Norma Kamali, and H&M; has offered limited editions from Roberto Cavalli and Karl Lagerfeld.
After the line he designed for H&M; sold out within hours due to insufficient quantities, Lagerfeld said publicly that he would never do it again, telling the German magazine Stern that it was "embarrassing to let down so many people."