Find out more about our consulting services. McLean. Boston. New York.
How does a company’s reputation go from marketing genius and fashionista favorite to unprepared and unresponsive? Take a look at what has happened to Target in the last 30 hours. On Tuesday, September 13th, Target launched its latest designer collaboration with Missoni, the high-end Itlalian design house known for its zig-zag knits and bold color combinations. Target has been selling limited edition clothing and products from designers for years now, but there was an unprecedented amount of buzz for this collection. A spread in Vogue magazine, a pop-up store in Manhattan, and sneak peaks of the collection on target.com helped build the anticipation.
The new items became available on Target’s website at 6am and within 2 hours there were complaints that the site was having problems. Customers either couldn’t access the site at all or, perhaps even worse, they lost access during the checkout process, losing items they had in their cart. By the time the site recovered, most of the items were sold out, which led to some heavy backlash online. In addition to site problems, Target had a communication breakdown as well. Social media has given retailers new ways to reach out to their customers and for customers to communicate back to the retailer. When a site goes down a retailer can still use tools like Twitter and Facebook to reach out, but they are only useful in mitigating a crisis if people are staffed to respond to the volume of complaints. Target’s Twitter feed is reading like a broken record: “Sorry for the inconvenience. We are working hard to get the site back into tip-top shape.” And the Facebook page for Target Style has been inundated with messages from dissatisfied customers and Target is struggling to keep up with responses.
How does something like this happen to Target, one of the biggest online retailers? Users might expect site failures from a smaller company (remember Oprah’s Favorite Things? Mom and pop businesses had to brace for a surge in traffic after a mention on her show). But Target is no stranger to big increases in site visitors and purchases; it happens whenever a new hot product hits the market. Target is laying the blame simply on high demand for the products, but another culprit is more likely: their recent switch from Amazon’s e-commerce platform to one of their own. Back in 2009, Target announced they would end their relationship with Amazon and bring the technology in-house prior to the 2011 holiday season. Early fall may have seemed like a good time to tranistion to the new platform, but switching technology weeks before a hot product line hits the site was risky at best. While Target stated that they were looking for more control of their site they may have traded that off for less capacity and reliability.
So what can be learned from Target’s well-publicized failure? Here are some things to keep in mind for your site: