The year was 2020, your aunt moved to Ohio from Toronto to raise chickens, domesticate goats and buy designer purses. Your uncle collected pugs and tools for a workshop he doesn’t build anything in. Your parents struggled to buy a home in the very tough Toronto Housing Market and the rest of your family watched the retail industry and stock market sway back and forth, like that bad Mark Wahlberg film The Perfect Storm. Back in those days, we also used this sanitary item called Toilet Paper. And then it hit, the contagious virus first named for a Mexican Beer and then known as COVID-19…
This is how I picture us describing our present crisis in the future. Stroking an imaginary beard and telling someone else’s kids about the s%$t show we are dealing with right now. And this is how every leader in our retail industry should be thinking right now. How will their brands be remembered?
It’s been 3 weeks since North America took COVID-19 seriously and realized they were being slammed by this deadly virus. Already, we see a pattern emerging in our industries. So far, many memories are sour. But we can turn that around. Let’s look at the whammies fresh in our memories now and what we will recall years from now.
March 13 is the day when this hit the retail floor. That day, a friend who works as a stay at home mom and part-time as a retail associate at Crate & Barrel called me. She was worried. She didn’t know if her store was going to temporarily shut down or how the company would address social distancing in retail. She didn’t want to go into work and risk bringing COVID-19 home to her young boys and husband, who already was working from home. She referenced Apple and Nike, they already addressed their associates in the same mall and had shut down locations worldwide.
While retail associates were texting one another for updates on their company brands and congregating in the malls secret back alleyways, Apple and Nike had taken action. These companies flattened their curve with one swift kick to Corona’s Balls. When we look back, we’ll remember these brands first. Why? Because they made it known to their associates on the front line, “We know you, we care about you, we care about the world we live in and we heard you before you spoke. We will keep you safe.”
Meanwhile, we read about the airline industry hoarding profits for years, giving bonuses to top execs and funding politicians who would keep the airline agenda top priority. We already know how this turns out for the airline industry, Kanye wrote the book on it in 2016. Beg for money, don’t acknowledge that your wife, family and partners are still living high and dressed head to toe in Designer, and 2 years later you’ll be back on top with an Adidas partnership valued at over 20 times what you were begging for. We don’t recall the Kanye Tweeting Years with fondness. That is how we will remember the response from the airline industry.
We will remember Costco, still not sending non-essential workers to WFH (work from home) even after a home office associate in the travel department reportedly died from COVID-19. Their associates openly begged the public to put pressure on the home office for safer working conditions during this pandemic. Costco remained silent. Then, within a week, two more Costco home office associates tested positive for COVID-19. Costco’s response to reporters and the public?
“Costco is not staffed to respond individually to all these questions. While this statement may not specifically address your inquiry, please understand that we will not be able to respond to your specific questions.”
We will remember the retailers that are reaching out of their “boxes” and stepping up to the plate to help. LVMH, turning its perfume factories into production sites to manufacture hydroalcoholic gel to support France and other countries during the pandemic. Would Christian Dior be rolling over in his grave thinking about the bland plastic packaging coming out of his factories right now? Nope. He’d be proud.
Let’s remember Christian Siriano who is safely having his tailors produce more masks and hospital gear. What does safely mean? It means he’s thought of the consequences of having his associates in factories, not social distancing to support a movement that needs social distancing. Safely means that they are doing this from the safety of their own home. Take a bow Christian, we’re applauding the thorough thought and care that went into this decision.
How does the flash and pizazz that we call Hollywood stand up to the test? A local Atlanta Hospital received a bountiful donation from the Fox show THE RESIDENT, which films locally. All medical gloves, gowns and other real-life supplies that they use on set to transport us into what was previously a fantasy world, is now used to save people and support our local heroes in the real world.
Retailers that are taking responsibility and reaching their associates beyond WFH policies, paid time off and store closures are implementing new strategies and are gaining our attention. Strategies such as creating content that shows people how to stay safe while using their products. NYX Makeup emails tutorials on how to clean makeup brushes at home safely (along with a code for free shipping), a new strategy from them, through email.
Other retailers are working to promote local small business support in their communities. Some retailers are starting funds to help their associates at this time, including Etsy, who created a $5,000,000 fund to help support their sellers who are all small businesses. They are also implementing relief by providing grace periods for sellers who need extra time paying their bills.
While we’re chatting about late bill payments, (to some that means, dad- can I pay you back next week? But to the majority it means keeping the heat on for their families), we will remember the company AFFIRM. A financial consumer lender targeted for Millennials to shop online to their hearts desire. Window shopping on Free People and your tote has $450 of must have boho sequins? AFFIRM pops up to let you know – pull the trigger and pay in low/no interest installments over the next couple of months! This turned the wheels of curiosity (because I was on Free People window shopping myself into a cyclone of embellished kimonos) and wondered how is AFFIRM, the major financial supporter of online retail shopping millennials, responding? Well, it responded in the same cool, Californian, take stance, way that we expected them too. By waiving late fees and penalties and calling on its industry to do the same. (Because if you don’t yell at the older, outdated, traditional competitors and call them out on their s%$t- can you really consider yourself a millennial?)
“I Call on the entire financial services industry to stop charging late fees- no lender or business should be profiting from their customers’ misfortunes, especially during an unprecedented pandemic.” – Max Levchin, CEO of Affirm.
And so kids, where did we go from there? Pollution cleared up, people connected with family and spent time with their kids, the dogs of the world were on cloud nine, and many retailers stepped up to the plate. Showing they cared about you and your ancestors in an unprecedented time.