Who would have thought that we would see "Black Friday" on a Sunday in April?
That is exactly what happened this month, when Target debuted its Lilly Pulitzer collection, selling out the collection within minutes on what is now called "Pink Sunday."
It's just the latest win for the discount retailer, which has solidified its positioning as the "cheap and chic" retailer. The key to Target's marketing strategy has been its ability to continuously position itself as a high-style brand despite its low prices. It's a crowded retail space and Target has managed to create a brand that people love because of its eye-catching marketing campaigns and partnerships. They've stuck to a simple marketing rule: know your audience.
The company knows its core demographic and designs campaigns targeting them. In comparison to other discounters, Target's customers -- referred to as "guests" -- are on average younger, hipper, and more affluent. Target may not be a niche brand, but it has carved out a niche market for itself.
The retailer continues to differentiate itself from its competitors, leaving its number one rival and retailer, Walmart, behind in this category. Overall, both stores offer the same type of products, but the Target experience is incomparable, and the brands that it has brought exclusively to its stores over the years have helped accomplish that.
In recent years, Target has taken its innovative and cool marketing initiatives to another level, partnering with major designers and launching limited-edition collections, such as Jason Wu, Missoni, and now Lilly Pulitzer. When they announced back in January that stores would feature this latest designer in affordable apparel and housewares, it instantly created a frenzy.
That was just the beginning of an integrated public relations and marketing campaign, which leveraged digital ads with sneak peaks of the collection. Target even brought Palm Beach to Manhattan, with a Lilly-themed pop-up shop in Bryant Park on the Thursday before the nationwide Sunday debut. Hundreds of Lilly fans lined up to get their hands on anything they could grab. They also got special treats, from signature drinks, to manicures, to a lounge featuring celebrities Bella Thorne and Kate Bosworth.
A few days later, the collection sold out nationwide within minutes, and crashed parts of Target's site. The company's chief merchandising officer Kathee Tesija told CNBC that they ordered a larger amount of inventory for this collection, anticipating that there would be enough to last into next month.
Evidently, supply did not meet demand.
But despite some dissatisfied customers who took to social media to complain about their experience, causing #LillyforeBay to trend, this launch was a total success for Target, and continues building on the brand image executives have so carefully crafted. As Morningstar analyst Ken Perkins said, "It's good to have these initiatives, it drives people into the store and helps build their brand."
Target has not spent this much time in the limelight since its Missoni collaboration back in Sept. 2011, which also caused their site to crash, sold out instantly, and caused its Manhattan pop-up shop to close early because its inventory sold out.
It's remarkable how the store can still generate this type of excitement, which translates immediately into demand both in stores and online. How many retailers can say the same? Once again, Target has managed to tap into a loyal and sophisticated consumer base that other bargain retailers have failed to reach. It won't be the last time.