Can the Jewelry Business Mimic Missoni Mania?

This week, Target enjoyed a public relations—not to mention sales—bonanza with its collection from Missoni, the Italian knitwear line known (at least up until now) as a luxury brand. Demand was so heavy that the collection sold out within hours, Target’s website crashed in 107 minutes, and the retailer experienced mobs in its stores:

“It was worse than any Black Friday I’ve ever seen,” [a Target employee] said. “Dozens of people were lined up outside the store at 7:30 yesterday morning. They all ran in and scooped up whatever they could—it didn’t matter what it was or what size it was.”

Did the scene get ugly? “Oh, yes,” she said, shaking her head slowly. “People shoving, pulling things out of each other’s hands. Lots of name-calling.”

Well, no one wants fist-fights, but the jewelry industry could certainly use some of the excitement this launch stirred. So why did it do so well?

First, here’s USA Today on the line’s appeal:

The 400-piece line features its familiar zigzag patterns priced from $2.99 for stationery to $599.99 for patio furniture. That’s a fraction of the price of the designer’s signature clothing, which can fetch up to $1,500.

That brings to mind the two big Internet success stories of the last few years: the “flash sale” (i.e. Gilt) and “group deal” (i.e. Groupon) models. Both are essentially discounters, but what makes them stand out is that they offer nice-sized price cuts on products where you don’t usually see them, whether it’s a fashion brand, or dinner for two at the local French restaurant. The deals they offer appear special, just as Missoni at Target appeared special.

Then there’s the scarcity factor. Both Gilt and Groupon make their offers available for a few days. Consumers have to act fast, or the deal will be gone. (And, contrary to the standard sales technique, the deals really do disappear.)  The Missoni “limited time only” line had a similar appeal:

The company has received some inevitable backlash for its website troubles and not stocking enough merchandise to meet demand. Critics, though, miss the point.

Missoni was never about sales though Target is certainly leaving some money on the table. The collection was mostly about marketing, creating buzz and excitement precisely because there was a scarcity of product. There’s a reason why it’s called a limited edition collection folks.

So, Missoni at Target was both special and scarce. Two good things. But there is something else. Missoni at Target would seem to be a product that sold itself. But Target didn’t let the product sell itself. The company promoted it heavily:

Target drummed up heavy publicity for the Missoni line before Tuesday, releasing photos of the products to fashion bloggers, holding a party with celebrities and fashion editors, and setting up a pop-up shop last week in New York City, where the merchandise sold out in six hours. Even Vogue gave the collection several pages of coverage in its August issue, perhaps the first and last time that a $30 rug made it into that magazine.

There were also ads and social networking. And, not just any social networking. Clever social networking:

Target’s Style Facebook page chronicled the line’s every development from the ad campaign to Marina, the blogger hired by Target to follow the Missoni launch during fashion week. Marina turned out to be a 25-foot robo doll dressed in head-to-toe Missoni. Four handlers walked her to high-profile locations during the week, where she was a larger-than-life billboard for the collection.

The “new normal” exists. Consumers are more choosy and frugal. They have to be. But their taste for buying hasn’t gone away.

What’s striking here is that, despite all the bad economic news, despite 9 percent unemployment and everything else, consumers will still get up at four in the morning to buy something they don’t need, if that product is perceived as 1) special, 2) scarce, and, on top of that, is 3) smartly promoted.

As one analyst commented: “When you develop the right product at the right price, consumers will move heaven and earth to get it.” Even today.

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JCK News Director