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October 3, 2011

Excuse me, but I always thought the idea of the whole thing WAS to sell out as much merchandise as possible. Did I miss something?

Perhaps I have gotten cynical (perhaps?), but the entire brouhaha around Target's Missoni program is making me crazy.

With the possible - and I say possible - exception of its website crashing for an inordinately long period of time, I think Target got exactly what it wanted out of the Missoni program. And what's more, I think Target knew exactly what it was doing.

Just in case you haven't been zoned in to this saga and have been worrying about silly things like the global economic meltdown, the dysfunctional federal government we elected or the Yankees pennant race, a few moments of background: In September Target rolled out a limited assortment of Missoni-branded merchandise across the store, including home. There was a pop-up store in Manhattan and the products were available both online and in the stores.

That's when the feeding frenzy broke out. The pop-up store sold out in six hours. The website crashed within hours of going live and there were all sorts of anecdotal stories of shoppers getting their orders cancelled, postponed or simply evaporated. Many stores resembled Black Friday debacles, and by the end of the first day just about anything with the name Missoni on it was sold out just about everywhere.

Now, I'm not quite sure what Missoni got out of all of this. Very few of those Target customers are going to trade up to the real stuff at prices that are ten-fold or more of their discount cousins.

But for Target, the hits just keep on coming. First off, at a time when the retailer has lost a bit of its cheap chic luster, this was a chance to leapfrog to the front of the fashion line again in one straight zigzag line. The residual effects will be felt for holiday and beyond, to be sure.

There is also the reinforcement of a concept that is becoming ever more obvious in retailing but which remains one many stores don't get: Limited runs have unlimited potential. This is nothing new. Go back to the Blue Light Special at Kmart (when it was still a retailer rather than a leaking cash sponge) and you'll see that was one of the original Flash Sales.

The current generation of Flash sites - Gilt, One Kings Lane and others - are using the same strategy: Choose it or lose it. They are training an entire generation of shoppers to not wait around but to make an immediate purchasing decision or miss their moment. H&M does the same thing every year or so with short-run designer programs.

And really, it's the prime motivator of the TJX group of stores. Many in the industry think it's the prices, but the fact of the matter is you can get just as good a deal on most of that merchandise with the right combination of coupons and One Day Sales. It's the limited inventory that is the magic of TJ Maxx, Marshalls and all the rest. It's the reason Tuesday Morning had its original limited operating schedule. Tell them they can't have it and they'll want it even more.

Target, I think, knows all of this and you can bet the next limited sale promotion it has will do even better. Maybe it will bring in a little more horsepower for the computers. Maybe a little more back-up stock.

But the boys in Minneapolis did a brilliant job on this one. My Missoni for Target floppy hat - no longer available - is off to them.