Tech Issues Mar Target Launch

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    Crashed site raises ire of Twitter users trying to purchase items from new collection

    Target’s refreshed its image and carved out a new niche for itself in today’s crowded market by collaborating with trendy designers to make it a cheap-chic destination. However, during the launch of its new Lilly Pulitzer collection, the retailer’s failure to predict online demand left many would-be customers feeling frustrated. Of course that meant heading to social media to vent, and Target took quite the beating on Twitter. NBC News’ Martha C. White reports:

    Frustrated consumers complained on Twitter when the demand overwhelmed Target’s site and mobile shopping app, prompting comparisons to Target’s 2011 Missoni collection that crashed the store’s site for several hours.”It certainly gets them press,” said Bob Phibbs, CEO of the Retail Doctor, a consulting firm. “I don’t know how effective it is at building loyalty and repeat business.”

    The technological issues that dogged the launch could have been prevented, said Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru.

    “This is not rocket science at this point,” she said. “We’ve had 20 years of e-commerce history where there are bursts in demand.” Other online retailers such as Amazon have managed to cope with surges in use, she pointed out, and Target should have expected that visits to its site would surge and done more to prevent the problems some users experienced.

    It’s not particularly difficult to add more capacity to servers when there are signs pointing toward a surge in use. This leaves us with a few options. One, Target failed to predict the demand for a product line its focused quite a bit of effort on creating buzz over. This is possible, but if nobody in the room even mentioned the possibility we’d be awfully surprised. Two, execs didn’t want to spend the extra bucks. Again this is quite possible. After all, it can be hard to convince those holding the purse strings to shell out, especially when the increased server load is all but guaranteed to be temporary. Yet a third option is that the previous two were considered and the Target team figured a site overload would grab the attention of the media (which it obviously did because we, and many others, covered the story.)

    If it’s one or two, it’s a pretty obvious mistake with immediate ramifications. If it’s number three, it’s probably given those behind the decision confidence in their decision, and they’re likely to do it again. Problem is, especially given how fast people are to outrage these days, a repeat “mistake” can quickly turn from a savvy PR maneuver into a reputation-damaging event.

    Whatever the cause behind the troubles, Target should be careful to take a deep breath and think carefully about the possibilities before its next big launch.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is vice president for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]

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