What should retail’s role be during this crisis? How should brands address these societal challenges?

Taking a stand has always been part of retail companies. I am old enough to remember the riots that plagued America in the 60s. As a proud child of the south side of Chicago, I remember the marches. I vividly recall watching the looting on television with my parents. There was no social media at the time, and we only learned about this on the evening news. Many of the stores we frequented were closed on the main shopping thoroughfares. And, of course, online shopping was not an option in those days.

I couldn’t help but think, “What should retail’s role be during this crisis?” How should brands address these societal challenges? Should they be like Nike and take a stand? The shoe retailer’s video was simple and straightforward, imploring: “For Once, Don’t Do It… Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America… Don’t turn your back on racism.”

Should all retailers share the same compassion of Target, whose message resonated, especially given its Minneapolis roots? I feel humbled when I see CEO Brian Cornell’s message:

Since we opened our doors, Target has operated with love and opportunity for all. And in that spirit, we commit to contributing to a city and community that will turn the pain we’re all experiencing into better days for everyone.

As one of my favorite stores, I am moved by its message and its products. It is the same feeling I have when its literacy campaigns donated books to children in need. It’s the same sentiment that is felt when our local theaters are the beneficiary of Target’s philanthropic generosity.

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Do retail stores have the luxury to ignore how their stores are integrated into this circle of violence and the fabric of our nation?

I’ve worked in retail for 40 years, from physical stores to ecommerce, and I’m passionate about retail. I was already agonizing thinking about this as the choppers were hovering over the north side of Chicago. I drove through nearby neighborhoods on June 1 and saw windows boarded up from looting just a mile from my home. Whether it be Best Buy, Ulta or local stores on shopping streets, digitally native brands or small mom-and-pops, on Armitage to Milwaukee, the situation is dire.

What do I hope for?

I’m sad and, while I don’t applaud the senseless violence, I asked myself, what do I hope for? What did I want to see from retailers? I hope for empathy, acknowledgment, compassion and a voice.

First and foremost, I hope for justice. These are fundamental rights that should and must apply to all.

Retailers have been that voice in the past and must continue to use their power. Retail is in a position to make a difference. Safe communities that can be home to strong businesses are important to all of us and to the vibrancy of our communities.

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Do shoppers care what brands stand for? I believe they do. I shared with my daughter that I was surprised to see Niketown ransacked in Chicago.

When COVID-19 became a real threat, retailers reacted in force online and offline. As I was driving through these same neighborhoods, I saw many signs on closed stores. Blueberry Moon is just one example of a message seen over and over.

Just as we do for many research projects, I decided to see how some of the retailers and brands who have been known for their progressive mindsets or impacted by the violence had reacted. I was glad to see that a handful, including Adidas and Under Armour, had posted messages to their homepages. Truthfully, I was surprised to see that others hadn’t followed suit.

Sporting goods brands have long led in this fight just as they do today. Sports have always been a voice of reason and a playing field where the best can participate no matter the color of your skin. These two powerful examples show the impact that can be had.


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Some might say that Digital Commerce 360 should just write about ecommerce. But to me, this is not about online or offline, it’s about retail. Stores matter and many times when physical stores suffer their ecommerce business suffers as well. The job of retailers is to take care of guests no matter where and how they may want to shop. The strength is in working together.

These are not sights we want to see in our neighborhoods. Retail has a big role to play. Stores are part of our lives, our communities and the vibrancy of our cities. We can shop online, and we will, but there is nothing more powerful than stores and online working together. We’re in this fight together to save our neighborhoods and to care for one another and to stand for what’s right.

As I finished this post yesterday afternoon, H&M sent out a letter from their CEO and has made a powerful pledge.

 

It’s now Wednesday, June 3. Time marches on, and #BlackOutTuesday saw participation by a number of high-profile brands.

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At the same time, I want to report that our team at Digital Commerce 360 continues to monitor website share messages they are receiving.

A few I’d like to highlight include a few paragraphs from a Best Buy email I received yesterday. It is another Minneapolis-based company. Best Buy’s CEO, Corie Barry, was elegant with her words and forthright when she shared: “I don’t have the answers, but I am no longer OK with not asking the question: If everything were on the table, what could Best Buy do? With that in mind, I am appointing a diverse group (by demography and level in the company) to challenge one another and, ultimately, our senior leadership team and Board of Directors, with substantive, enduring ways we can address the inequities and injustices to which all of us bear witness every day.

Retailers like others in corporate America are stepping up and know they must do more. Her reference to serving the neighborhoods was powerful as she alludes to the following, “This effort is reflective of our broader view that we must continue to be an important player in the communities we are a part of, especially those hardest hit. This includes continuing to serve the neighborhoods in which our stores were damaged.”

Black Out Tuesday took effect and here are just a few of the powerful messages shared by retailers and brands. We can all feel empowered by these companies as we work together in support of a better nation.

Rihanna’s Fenty brands pause sales for Blackout Tuesday—and she calls it straight: “We ain’t buying shit!!!” she tweeted. “And we ain’t selling shit neither!!”

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Additionally, a shout out to Need Supply Company, a clothing and lifestyle store based out of Richmond, Virginia. It also closed its site on Tuesday and, as of Wednesday it remains closed.

Lastly, one of my favorite designers, Eileen Fisher, and an activist in many regards—from sustainability to civil rights—said it best, “Equal rights are human rights”

We will watch. Your customers and future customers will be watching. We will continue to report on these causes now and throughout the course of the year.

*Originally posted June 2, updated June 3

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