Target Misses the Mark – a Failed Holiday Partnership With Neiman Marcus

The king of conservative retail, Target Corp, just had a rare sighting… a failure?  While Target might not be the most conservative retailer out there they certainly wouldn’t be considered a big risk taker.  In fact, just two years ago Target announced they were taking the huge leap into “international” retailing.  If you are keeping track that was a full 20 years after Wal-Mart opened its first international store, Mexico City, Mexico, in 1991!  Well, we are still waiting for the Target Canada stores to open in March/April 2013 but Target’s recent partnership with Neiman Marcus has officially been deemed a failure. See Time’s recent article titled Epic Retail Fail: Where Did the Target + Neiman Marcus Collection Go Wrong?

Target’s behind the scenes blog (A Bullseye View – named after their logo and dog mascot) describes the collaboration as “1 legendary partnership. More than 50 gorgeous gifts” with images and videos of the launch party and commercials.  The partnership utilized a stable of high end designers that created a unique collection of holiday gifts that both companies sold online and in-store.  As of today, most of the items are listed as 70% off with only a few being sold out.  It looks as if they planned for a big holiday party but no one came?

If Target executives (and Neiman Marcus) are anything like most of the other Fortune 500 executives, they are already heading for the hills.  They have already listed all of the reasons why this partnership failed (or at least the reasons they could think of) and they are ready to “bury the body” and move on.  The individuals who were working on the project might now wondering what their future holds.  Have they ruined their career?  How long will they have to wear the Scarlet Letter “F” around the office?  Or maybe even, will they have a job?

This failure won’t cause either company massive losses but it might dramatically affect their future revenues depending on how they respond.  In my research, many executives will quickly discard their failures for fear that a blemished record will tarnish their career – a natural reaction in a highly competitive workplace.  These executives would prefer to shove the failed project into the proverbial closet and run in the opposite direction.  What happens next is that everyone “learns” to avoid future failures by either quickly abandoning projects at even the slightest hint of disappointment or they might simple stop playing the “innovation” game – recognizing that the risk vs. reward equation is not in their favor.

I would suggest to my friends at Target that this will be a great learning opportunity for the entire organization.  Take your time to really examine what happened.  Prepare your story and be transparent within the organization: 1) what did you accomplish, 2) what did you learn, and 3) what would you have done differently?  If handled correctly, this can be a great chance for Target leaders to shape how the organization will handle risk and failure in the future.

I do have to give Target credit though.  While it might not have played out as they had expected this certainly was an innovative idea and beyond their typical risk profile.  Maybe next time they’ll hit the bullseye?

Note: Earlier this year I had written a post (How Do We Learn to Fail? Lessons From Target and Wimbledon High School) that described how Target had used the theme of failure for their “Design Month” and had inventor James Dyson keynote the event.

Food For Thought:

  • How would your organization typically handle a failure like this?
  • What is your organization’s risk tolerance for failure?
  • Are there executives that are known to have failed previously within your organization? Or have they all left?

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