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Customers wait 6 ft apart in line at a reopened American Eagle Outfitters store. Photo Credit: Washingtonpost.com

Retail Winners in the Time of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter Movement

It has been 130 days since California became the first state to order an official lockdown, causing non-essential businesses to shut their doors. As the months went on, cases continued to rise, and the murder of George Floyd led to the strengthening of the Black Lives Matter movement and an overwhelming demand for change. Now retailers are navigating the challenges of keeping people safe while also being held under increased scrutiny for their actions related to social and political issues. The winning retailers are those who are developing long-term solutions and committing to making lasting changes. In a blog from early June, “ACTION REQUIRED,” we noted that retailers needed to take a stand on current issues and in this blog, we will highlight a few leaders for their actions regarding COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Back in March, essential businesses began implementing informal social distancing by placing temporary pieces of tape 6 ft apart on the floor and handwritten signs on the doors at entrances. Other early actions included store hour adjustments, contactless delivery, extended return windows, free shipping, temporary pay increases for employees, and purchase limits on essential goods. When things had not improved by April, stores began enforcing more safety measures including plexiglass shields at checkout, one-way aisles, and capacity limits. Many businesses also took the initiative to help the greater community by donating money or food or using their warehouses to manufacture masks or hand sanitizer. Now in July, essential retailers and reopened non-essential businesses have made more permanent changes such as specialty designed floor decals, reimagined store layouts for social distancing, increased contactless services, and new partnerships. Those winning customer trust, however, have gone above and beyond to support their employees, keep their customers safe, and help the community.

American Eagle Outfitters

Since American Eagle Outfitters closed all its stores on March 17th, they have excelled at connecting with their customers from a distance. During late April, they launched “Come Together: At Home with AE” which consisted of 7 live Instagram concerts by popular musicians to benefit America’s Food Fund. The trendy clothing store also hosted a virtual prom on May 14th which brought together over 17,500 young adults who had missed out on theirs. After they began reopening their stores on May 7th, they have also become a leader in keeping shoppers safe through their on-brand floor decals with inspirational messages, a welcoming table offering masks and hand sanitizer, and a shoe cleaning mat at the entrance. More permanent changes they have made include curbside pickup, contactless return options, and redesigned store layouts featuring less merchandise. In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, American Eagle Outfitters has donated $500,000 to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and promised to match associate donations up to $100,000. They also used their Instagram platform of 3.6 million followers to share their support and a variety of resources for the black community and allies.

Teens across the country come together for a virtual prom hosted by American Eagle Outfitters. Photo Credit: Instagram

CVS Pharmacy 

CVS has also become a leader in customer safety due to their newly offered contactless services. They have made it convenient and safe for customers to stay healthy by adding a telehealth option for Minute Clinic appointments, providing free home delivery of prescription medications, allowing for drive-thru pickup of essential items, and having drive-thru COVID-19 testing at over 1,000 locations across the country. Additionally, CVS is working towards a long-term solution by partnering with Nuro to test autonomous delivery services in Texas. As a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, they owned up to not having a very diverse leadership team and created an internal action plan to ensure black and brown employees have access to opportunities for advancement and development at all levels in the company. They also made a $600 million commitment to advance employee, community, and public policy initiatives that address inequality over the next five years.

A man returns his test sample at a CVS COVID-19 drive-thru test site. Photo Credit: Tampabay.com

H-E-B

As a longtime leader in community support, it is no surprise H-E-B scored high on our consumer trust study and was the top performer for stepping up to support the local community during the pandemic. The supermarket donated $1.2 million to support 18 food banks in Texas, along with 40 truckloads of food and household supplies. They also donated $500,000 to organizations that deliver meals to seniors and low-income families, $300,000 to Texas Biomedical Research Institute, and $1 million to local nonprofits. In addition, they supported local health care workers by delivering 80,000 meals, 10,000 bags of beauty products and grooming supplies, and 4,000 plants and flower bouquets to hospitals in Texas. Furthermore, they started selling ready-made meals from local restaurants with all proceeds going directly back to the restaurants. More permanent actions they have taken include the creation of a COVID Action Manager role, employee raises, and a partnership with Favor that allows seniors to have contactless, same day grocery delivery. To support the Black Lives Matter movement, they created a $1 million fund to help address racial inequalities and injustice as well as an online donation campaign where customers can support the movement. Combined with their history of celebrating Juneteenth by marching in parades and their virtual celebration this year, H-E-B has proven that they truly support the movement.

An H-E-B employee prepares to load donations into a truck. Photo Credit: Newsroom.heb.com

Retailers who are winning customer trust are those who are focusing on long-term changes in response to COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement. They are taking actions that support their employees, customers, and community members. In this unprecedented time of COVID-19 and social unrest, retailers need to step up and make permanent changes to their operations to ensure customers feel safe and supported.

Rachel Stern

Rachel Stern

rstern@mdretail.com

Rachel Stern is a Junior at Rollins College studying Social Entrepreneurship and Communications and is passionate about understanding how business can be used as a force for positive social change and environmental action. Rachel is a summer intern at the company, providing support on projects relating to retail and sustainability.

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