Leveraging the hype of this week's New York Fashion Week, discount department storeTarget (TGT) had celebrities Tweeting, fashion bloggers blogging, party-goers partying, and a pop-up store popping up in Manhattan to advertise its Missoni for Target collection. It's not that a famous Italian design house that usually sells luxury collections in luxury stores like Saks was associating itself with an American discounter that grabbed headlines. It's not the fact that the same design house that sells dresses for thousands at Saks Fifth Avenue (SKS) is also selling panties at Target for $9.99 that was reported on the news wires.
It's the fact that on the first day that Missoni for Target became available to discount shoppers, the website crashed, the store shelves were cleaned out, and in less than a week, the average price point of Missoni for Target items is "out of stock." That was the big 2011 New York Fashion Week story.
Most people will say that having consumer demand exceed retail supply so dramatically is a good thing. Certainly Apple (AAPL) has used planned scarcity masterfully in its retail marketing strategy. But the Massive Missoni Melee at Target seemed neither masterful nor planned, and therefore, in the short term, wasn't such a "good" thing in terms of customer satisfaction and lost sales.
But for one U.S. retail company it has turned out to be a very good thing. The surprise beneficiary of the Missoni for Target collection is eBay (EBAY), where thousands of Missoni items are being auctioned off for prices higher than retail. Reselling the discount store merchandise designed by an Italian fashion house on eBay is a retail paradigm that is difficult to grasp, much less predict.
The "good" thing that comes out of the Missoni for Target misstep for the entire U.S. retail industry is the clear message from average consumers about what they want, what they're willing to do to get what they want, and what not to do in the execution of a limited product line or a scarcity marketing strategy. Low-priced high fashion is the new black for inspirational shoppers of the past. Major U.S. retail chains would do well to capitalize on that trend before aspirational shopping becomes cool and possible again.
Target is not the only U.S. retail chain to have figured this out. Payless Shoe Source (PSS) was back on the runway at New York Fashion Week this year with its new line of uber affordable high fashion footwear. The models who were strutting the latest four-figure designs from Lela Rose and Christian Siriano were also wearing $50 Payless Shoe Source shoes created by the same two designers. The first time that discount shoes designed specifically for the discount shoe store chain appeared on a fashion show runway it was a shocking sacrilege. Now it's a sign of the times and barely worth a tweet or a post or a status update.
Payless calls partnering with designers Siriano and Rose "from runway to reality." Which is basically a way of saying that even though the shoes on the Payless shelves are considered to be short-term throwaways, they can also be fashion forward too.
Other retail chains are seemingly cued into the runway-to-reality strategy as well. The in-house fashion designers from jcpenney (JCP) have been scouring the New York Fashion Week runways this week, hoping to find the best looks and trends that they can knock off in their quest to be "the fashion leader of middle America." J Crew showed a collection for the first time at this year's Fashion Week in its quest to become an "affordable luxury brand." Sears (SHLD) has launched the Kardashian Kollection. Kohl's (KSS) is selling clothing and home decorations designed by Jennifer Lopez.
So it seems that post-recessionary consumers in an uncertain economy want to save their pennies by buying private label discount groceries so that they can spend them on higher-priced designer labels in discount stores. It's a bit of a double standard, but nobody ever said that American consumers were rational. The retail industry doesn't need to understand the runway-to-reality mentality, it just needs to respond to it quickly. The perfect storm of low consumer confidence, high unemployment, strong desires and weak wills won't be driving women to purchase their wardrobe and their toilet paper in the same store forever.