Target's Marimekko launch fails to ignite shopping frenzy

NEW YORK — It was hardly a Lilly-lollapalooza.

Target's much anticipated exclusive, limited-time-only launch of the Marimekko Collection on Sunday did not spark the frenzied shopping of some of its past collections. On the bright side, the discounter didn't have to deal with crashing websites and disappointed customers.

Target's sale of the Finnish designer collection of mostly beach accessories and dinnerware, which range from $7.99 for sunscreen to $499.99 for a paddleboard, hit stores and online Sunday. But as of Sunday afternoon, just less than 50 of the 200 styles had sold out online.

The response at the chain's 1,800 stores was equally as muted.

That's a big difference from last year's launch of Target's partnership with Lilly Pulitzer, where demand was so heavy Target took its website offline for 20 minutes, leading to angry chatter on social media. Ultimately, the items sold out online within a few hours and at many of the stores within a half hour.


"These collaborations are not intended to sell out in one day," Target spokesman Joshua Thomas said Sunday. He noted that the reception to Lilly Pulitzer was rare.

Thomas said there were two sales spikes online Sunday, one in the wee hours of the morning and the other mid-afternoon. Usually, Target sees just one spike in sales online and then the pace levels off.

The launch comes as Minneapolis-based discounter is getting back its fashion mojo under its CEO Brian Cornell, who took the helm in August 2014. Target, which pioneered these partnerships in the 1990s, has faced stiff competition from the likes of H&M and Gap, which have all copied this formula. These limited-time-only partnerships don't move the needle in terms of overall sales, but they can spark interest in brand.

In response, the discounter has been stepping up its game in the last year and a half. It is seeking to strike the right balance between creating buzz for these collections that are sold at a fraction of the price of the designer originals, but without angering shoppers.

In an age of social media, where shoppers use Twitter as a megaphone, it's a hard balance to strike.

Target learned a lot from its big mistakes during the launch of Italian designer Missoni's collection in 2011, an industry defining moment that drew Black Friday-like crowds. Target drummed up so much hype around that collection that its web site crashed and was shut down for most of the day. Shoppers voiced frustrations online and then threatened to boycott Target weeks later on social media because their online orders were being delayed and canceled.

Since then, Target has overhauled its website to make sure it can handle surging customers, and has been rethinking how it launches these limited-time-only partnerships.

Still, for those who still wanted to get their hands on Marimekko bold-prints, there seems to be plenty of time.


Andrea Bernardo of Rockville, Maryland, showed up at 1 p.m. Sunday with her daughter to a Target store in nearby Gaithersburg to see if there was anything left of the Marimekko collection. To her pleasant surprise, there was plenty left.

"We were the only ones looking at the stuff," she said. She noted that was a big difference from last year when she showed up 45 minutes ahead of the store opening for the Lilly Pulitzer launch.

"The crowds were insane. We just grabbed stuff. There was no thinking," she said.

Last year, she spent $400 on Lilly Pulitzer items including colorful towels and cocktail glasses. This year, she spent $600 buying Marimekko items like beach towels, bathing suits and plates, not just for herself and her daughter but for others.

"I think they will make good gifts," she said.

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