Target’s designer collaborations are a key part of cultivating the cheap-chic store’s buzz and cachet to distinguish it from other discounters. But the retailer’s latest effort, with Finnish designer Marimekko, went on sale on Sunday to apparently less excitement than its Lilly Pulitzer collection of a year ago.
Last April, Target (TGT) was the victim of its own success when the hysteria generated by the Pulitzer line led to quick sellouts and almost felled the retailer’s website, leading to a lot of brickbats from shoppers. It was Target’s biggest smash since its Missoni line a few years ago.
Target later admitted it had been caught unawares and that the collection was supposed to have lasted weeks, not hours.
So far, Target looks like it is having no such problems with the Marimekko line, a brand whose items are normally much pricier than what Target is charging.
The majority of items in the 200 item collection, which feature Marimekko’s distinctive patterns and bright colors ranging from $7.99 to $499.99, were still available for sale online on Sunday mid-afternoon, Eastern time. About 50 are now sold out.
The Wall Street Journal reported thin lines at three New York area stores on Sunday morning. In contrast, shoppers had lined up overnight at many stores last year for Lilly Pulitzer.
Still, Target was sanguine about the pace of the start of the sale.
“We don’t intend for these to sell out in a day,” a Target spokesman told Fortune.
The spokesman added to the Journal: “We’re pleased with how the collection came to life in the very early hours,” the Target spokesman said. “What’s most noticeable about this collection is how seamless the roll out was online.”
Last year, despite big investments to beef it up, Target’s web site wobbled as it was overwhelmed by visitors, forcing the company to limit the number of people who could access it at a time.
Despite the muted start to the sale this time, the Marimekko for Target items were already popping up on eBay (EBAY) at big markups, as they did for Pulitzer.
For instance, one women’s kukkatori print tunic was listed for $55 even though the same item is listed as available on target.com for $26.99. Similarly, a hammock priced for $64.99 was listed for $148 on the eBay marketplace.
Some eBay (EBAY) sellers may be in for a disappointment. Indeed, the Journal quoted one eBay seller as saying the response to Marimekko was far quieter than the one last year to Pulitzer.
In a way, all this could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Target.
These collaborations represent a fraction of sales and their real value is to burnish Target’s aura for style. Most of these designer collaborations are expected to sell out, and typically do, though in a matter of a few weeks. (Sometimes they bomb—three years ago, a holiday season collection with luxury department store Neiman Marcus was a big flop.)
They are designed to create buzz and are a way to get new shoppers to come to Target. And with Marimekko’s collection available, and visible on line and on store shelves, for a longer time, that provides that benefit to Target for longer time, potentially a greater benefit than a fast selling collection that won’t move the needle for a $75 billion a year company.