Epic Retail Fail: Where Did the Target + Neiman Marcus Collection Go Wrong?

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Too weird, too pretentious, too expensive, and, in the end, too out of step with what today’s arbiters of style deem cool. Those have been among the many critiques of Target’s multi-designer collaboration with luxury retailer Neiman Marcus — a partnership that was hyped to the hilt, and wound up as a major bust. 

Target’s collaboration with Isaac Mizrahi roughly a decade ago introduced the mashup of high fashion and cheap prices that endeared Target to fashion-forward frugal shoppers. Its partnership with Italian designer label Missoni was so popular it prompted long lines, sellouts within hours, and a surge of traffic so big it crashed Target’s website.

The Neiman Marcus collection was supposed to leave that in the dust. The discounter even imposed purchase limits and beefed up its website in anticipation of a mad dash for the goods. In Target’s third-quarter conference call last month, president, CEO, and chairman Gregg Steinhafel told analysts it would be “a stretch” to imagine the collection not selling out in a week’s time.

But not three weeks after the collection’s debut and nearly a week before post-Christmas discounting, Target slashed prices on the entire shebang, from a brightly-colored $500 Alice + Olivia bicycle to $30 for a set of eight Band of Outsiders cookie cutters. Starting on January 1, the entire collection was marked down by 70%, with even larger discounts sure to follow. It’s a major defeat for the company that basically pioneered cheap-chic in American retail.

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Despite all the hype surrounding Target’s Neiman Marcus collection, shoppers, as well as the sartorially-obsessed blogosphere, responded with a big, fat “meh.”

Par for the course was a post “The Neiman Marcus for Target Disaster,” blogger Tayler Bartman of WellTaylered.com called the collection a “hideous display.” “Just because you have to use cheaper materials, doesn’t mean I need to look like I got lost in a thrift store in an array of bipolar time periods,” she wrote.

A few items were widely praised: A set of Tracy Reese dessert plates and a black-and-gold serving tray were both mentioned as outliers, although some groused that the $80 price tag on the tray wasn’t worth it. Girls’ dresses from Marchesa also had some bloggers wishing they were kids again, but many quickly pointed out that they wouldn’t drop $100 on a dress that would get outgrown in a matter of months.

Some complained that designers like Tory Burch and Diane von Furstenberg, known for their distinctive clothes, turned out thermoses and yoga mats (respectively), instead. “They couldn’t do a dress?” blogger Sami Morrissey of SamisShenanigans.com asked plaintively when reviewing the von Furstenberg items. And aside from a tote many bloggers criticized as looking and feeling cheap despite an $80 price tag, Oscar de la Renta — who outfits celebrities in red-carpet looks — offered pet accessories: dog bowls and rhinestone collars.

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The consensus seems to be that items like these — or rather, prices like these — just don’t belong at Target. Indeed, prices were criticized repeatedly in the blogosphere. Sure, it’s cheap for stuff with a designer’s name on it, but the prices are still much higher than what Target shoppers are used to paying, and many bloggers groused that quality was markedly inferior. Target’s Facebook fans were also underwhelmed. The words “cheap” and “overpriced” popped up often — never good, but in combination, a death sentence.

Pam Danziger, owner of Unity Marketing, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that prices just weren’t in touch with today’s wallet-minded shoppers, especially given the continued uncertainty of the economy. “It was overpriced to begin with,” she said. (A Target spokesman declined to comment on the collection’s sales, although a spokeswoman quoted in the Pioneer Press said the collection helped Target stand out this holiday season.)

On top of this, Target made some tactical stumbles with the collection. Citi analyst Deborah Weinswig took the retailer to task in a research note called, “Don’t Believe the Hype: Target + Neiman Marcus Holiday Collection Disappoints.” Among the mistakes: Sticking the collection at the back of the store (the display eventually migrated to the front of the store), and doing a generally sloppy job presenting it, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The collection drew flak from Target and Neiman Marcus customers alike. Some Neiman Marcus shoppers complained on the brand’s Facebook page that the items intended to be sold at Target were made in China, and that Target’s customer service was poor. (You’d assume the big shelves of stuff for a dollar near the front doors would tip off shoppers that this isn’t the place to go for hand-holding service.)

Overall, though, Neiman Marcus customers seemed happier with the collection than their Target counterparts. There are quite a few positive reviews of the collection on the Neiman Marcus Facebook page, and some items have sold out on the Neiman Marcus website — without the benefit of a 50% off markdown.

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For the most part, however, experts say that the collection exuded an out-of-touch, let-them-eat-cake worldview that turned off budget-conscious shoppers. Retail analyst Jim McComb told the Pioneer Press, “The selection of merchandise confused me… the things they were offering were not the kinds that are going to fly off the shelf.”

Neiman Marcus is famous for its holiday catalog chock-full of whimsical (read: strictly discretionary) items with sky-high price tags, but the people at both stores who curated the collection overestimated the appetite for this kind of stuff in the mass market. The brand isn’t really considered trendy or edgy; instead, it’s the vanguard of aspirational consumerism. And it would seem that a brand image reliant on the idea of old-money luxury clashes with the egalitarian ethos of cheap-chic fashion.

Or as one blogger put it: “What the hell are you thinking, Neiman Marcus, partnering with Target? Neiman is high-end and endless class,” blogger Kate Concannon of LifeSucksInAStraplessBra.com, wrote back in July when news of the collaboration surfaced. “I get it, you want to make the Neiman Marcus brand obtainable to everyone in America … but the fun about Neiman is … it ISN’T obtainable.”

13 comments
KinTexas
KinTexas

I just read this article, a little late, but still had to chuckle.  I KNEW this collaboration was going to be a huge flop.  If for no other reason, it was way too vague.  Neiman's is great (well, it used to be) but the brand recognition isn't as specific as, say, Missoni.  I was dying to get my hands on anything Missoni at an affordable price--it's not only cute but *recognizable* (alas, I only got a cosmetic bag).  But some random bike?  That was what I took away from the preview advertising.  Really...who cares.  NM is going down the tubes and this was a desperate attempt.  I recently ditched my online account because of customer service that even Target should be ashamed of.

MNSuburbanGirl
MNSuburbanGirl

Honestly, I would have bought the pet collar and leash... except I have a male dog, and the only color option was pink. Sorry, some guys may be able to wear pink, but my boy is very much NOT a pink type. Also, I know where to get the REAL designer stuff at even 1/4 the prices that the Target versions were originally priced for. Why would I pay more $$ for what is not really the 'real' thing? Plus the styles of the clothes were just not to my taste. The glitzy gold and blue sequin top they had for sale looked like something a 60+ year old woman would wear in Las Vegas sitting and playing slots. It was pretty, but the cut itself was too old-woman-ish.

Florette06
Florette06

One problem that isn't mentioned is the fit of the clothing. I was suspicious when there were so many dresses left (all sizes) at 70% off. My sister-in-law and I tried on two of the dresses that looked beautiful on the hangers. They were extremely unflattering for someone with an average figure. Way too much fabric around the hip area that made one look twice as big.

mandykc
mandykc like.author.displayName 1 Like

I could not disagree more with this article. Every designer collection at Target features items hitting many of the same price points I saw in the NM collaboration. Some are successful, some aren't. Most Target customers aren't willing to pay for things like this, but there are many who are and do. If we're going to pick on quality, there were only 2 items that I thought were seriously lacking- the Oscar de la Renta bag was one and the Marc Jacobs scarf was another. Everything else did not look "cheap" to me at all. The Marchesa dress was GORGEOUS and I am loving the Proenza Schouler sweater I bought. I happily picked up several pieces from this collection, as I tend to do with all of the collections they put out. 

EvanjalineRose
EvanjalineRose

I couldn't believe what I was seeing when I first saw the collection. There was a lace dress that was lovely, but the price tag was $100. I would NEVER pay that much for a dress! The cookie cutters stunned me. $30 for cookie cutters? Seriously? There were so many weird and ugly things, and all of it was so expensive and just ridiculous. I hated the ad campaign too. The model they chose to represent this collection was scary. And I did wonder why in the world this 'highly-anticipated' designer collection was at first displayed near the back of the store where they hide the plus size clothes. Only after a few weeks did they move everything to the front, near the registers! But now that everything's on discount, I will CONSIDER getting that lace dress that was originally $100. It's a cute dress, but it's nowhere near $100-cute.

MaryCathrynHall
MaryCathrynHall

The collection WAS overpriced and the quality wasn't there.  But add to that, this simple fact.  The items offered were NOT what the designers are known for.  DVF makes a fantastic wrap dress.  Everyone would like a cheaper version of that DVF classic.  No one is dying for a DVF yoga mat or cheap DVF jewelry box--they want a DVF dress.  Likewise, I would love to get something from Oscar de la Renta, but he is NOT known for making dog accessories!!!   This was an epic fail.  And the fit of the garments, don't even get me started.   See more comments from my readers on my blog, The Recessionista >
http://www.therecessionista.com/2012/12/target-neiman-marcus-collection-consumers-arent-rushing-to-buy.html


educated_reader
educated_reader like.author.displayName 1 Like

Really...did a writer for a major magazine really use "epic" and "fail" in the headline of an article?  Are writers no longer able to use the depth of their broad experience and broad vocabulary to communicate effectively? Or do they simply lack those skills now.  Must we succumb and use  the jargon of social media and ridiculous catch phrases?  Time can do better....or can they?

RyanNewman
RyanNewman like.author.displayName 1 Like

I would consider myself a bit of a Target fanatic and tend to follow all their speciality lines.  The problem with the Neiman Marcus line for me was the oddity of the items they chose and the price points.  Don't get me wrong, I eventually bought most of the items.  But I was for sure not going to by a letter opener for $60!  For that amount, it would have to do dishes.  

What would have made the collaboration successful is realistic price points and cohesion among the products offered.  Instead of a letter opener, yoga mat and compact, it should've been Neiman Marcus Kitchen items, Neiman Marcus for the bedroom and Neiman Marcus clothes.  And really, where did the Skateboard come from?

subtletyaintmystyle
subtletyaintmystyle

I disagree with ppo and completely agree with  the article.  I shop at both Target and Neiman Marcus.  I thought it was a fail for both stores.  All of the materials used in the dresses and coats looked cheap.  Even the little girls' holiday dresses by Jason Wu which were one of the few nicer and more wearable designs. The other items were strange and disappointing.  The Jason Wu ornaments?  Hideous, weighty, and much less appealing than many of the cheapie and cheerful plastic items that Target featured in their Christmas aisles.  Our west Seattle store featured the merchandise prominently and still, most of it hasn't moved, even after 70% off.  I found a set of Carolina Herrera bags that featured a nice pattern, but again, cheap, tacky material.  I bought them at 70% off, because I felt the value matched the goods at 11.99 vs the original price of 39.99.  I also liked the Marc Jacobs leather pocket bags, but if you examine the leather, it's extremely cheap and feels like plastic.  I debated whether they were worth it at 20.99--70% off their former price of 69.99.  I passed.  

I've never been a fan of Target's designer collections.  They all look like what they are--cheap materials and an attempt at a plausibly interesting design.  The only exception I found was a dress by Gaultier in the 2010 collaboration, where the design seemed to capitalize on the cheap material--it was well thought out.  Personally I think Merona and Converse are giving Target nicer, edgier, and more wearable designs these days, mainly because the designs work with the fabrics.

JackieNE
JackieNE like.author.displayName 1 Like

I completely disagree with this article, and  I think it's unfair given the author selectively spotlighted a few bloggers and critical articles in an attempt to "prove" her point. She could have just as easily written a piece with a positive spin linking to any one of a number of blog posts out there written by people who, like me, enjoyed and purchased a number of items in this collection. I also felt that the arguments made in Deborah Weinswig's article (referenced above) a week or so after the collection debuted were unsubstantiated and frankly more of an effort to capitalize on the hype surrounding this partnership and turn that into page views for her article than anything else. To say that this collection did not perform as well as the Missoni for Target collection and that therefore it was a failure is ridiculous-- the NM collection was much more widely available (3 stores nationwide-- NM, NM Last Call and Target-- + the internet vs. just one), buying restrictions were imposed and supposedly much more stock was available. In any case, let's see some real revenue figures before we declare this a flop. 

Of course not everyone is going to like everything, but this collection was a big hit with me. I thought it was fun to see designer items outside the norm of what those involved with the collection normally offer (as I sit here, sipping coffee out of my Tory Burch-branded thermos), and I wouldn't expect a label like Diane von Furstenberg to produce a cheap version of her iconic warp dress for Target-- doing so would directly undermine the prestige and aspirational aspect of her main line. Not that I necessarily buy into that line of thinking, but the fact is the fashion industry depends on it because at the end of the day I can wear a $250 DVF dress or a $12 from Walmart, and I'm equally clothed. So, yes, if I want a DVF dress, I'll have to save my pennies and buy a "real" one. And that goes double for Tory Burch flats-- those suckers are pricey for a shoe that bears a strong resemblace to a $8 Mossimo flat from Target, so yes people pay for the gaudy gold medallion on the vamp! If I were TB, I would certainly not produce a cheaper version and hawk it at Target-- not when getting thousands of women across the country to pay a premium for that item is a foundation of my company. The items in every Target/designer collaboration I've ever seen-- including Missoni-- were significantly lower in quality than the "real" thing, and in most cases the designers (Missoni being the biggest exception I can think of) did not replicate their iconic items at a lower price point. If anything, many of the items in the NM/Target collaboration struck me as of much higher quality than most of these kinds of collaborations

In any case, I am thoroughly enjoying my Tracy Reese plates, Thom Browne blazer, TB thermos, and earlier today placed an order for a few more items that I wasn't willing to purchase at full price. There were some great, unique and fun items in this collection, and I truly hope it becomes a tradition. Target and NM, please take note-- this was a great idea, and there are many of us who hope it's just the beginning!