React and Adapt - Transformation During Covid

Expert Interviews
January 14, 2021

At NRF today, Zipline CEO and Co-founder Melissa Wong moderated a Big Ideas session with three retail professionals, who also happen to be Zipline customers. The panel discussed how Covid-19 forced their businesses to stretch and flex in new ways. The truth is that no one was ready for the chaos of Covid. But, many retailers today are able to look back and say they’re operationally stronger than they were a year ago thanks to the pandemic.

 In this blog post, we share our top 7 insights from the panel discussion with these retail leaders: 

  • Taryn Racin; Communication Manager - American Eagle Outfitters
  • Corey Bouyea, Director Store Operations - L.L.Bean 
  • Jessica Siwy - Sr. Manager of Store Operations & Customer Service - BevMo!

 Having a communications infrastructure was key to navigating the pandemic

Luckily, all the retailers on the panel had a communications platform in place to easily communicate with store leaders throughout the pandemic. This enabled them all to manage the nearly constant changes that came from furloughs, new ways for customers to pick up products (eg BOPIS, curbside, etc), and health and safety regulations. Communications also provided the support that store teams needed during a tumultuous period. Corey from L.L.Bean summed it up, saying, “We needed to let our employees know that they were our priority so supporting them with communications was really important to us.”

Challenging times require a single source of truth

The pandemic introduced a lot of unforeseen challenges for retailers. The retailers that successfully navigated the pandemic were able to provide their store teams with a single source of truth so they always knew where to go for the latest information. As Zipline’s first customer, BevMo! was in the fortunate position of already having processes in place to manage change. Jessica says, “Luckily our stores knew where to go for information. They started every day the same way - - logging into Zipline.” This helped the retailer immensely as they were asking associates to take on new roles. For example, many were asked to become shoppers for curbside and delivery for the first time.

In-person isn’t always better

During the pandemic, many retailers replaced store visits and on-site training and onboarding with virtual meetings. This new way of doing business will likely remain long after the pandemic is gone. L.L.Bean, for example, found that virtual new hire orientation is much more time and resource-effective than the old way of training new employees on-site. In addition, replacing weekly store visits with virtual visits enabled many more people to participate at a fraction of the cost. American Eagle Outfitters also moved to virtual conferences and store visits, allowing the head of stores to be in many places at once and engage far more stores than ever before.

Listening to store feedback took on new meaning

While surveys were common before the pandemic, doubling down on feedback from store teams helped HQ understand what was happening in stores around the country and adjust the approach. Without an easy way to continuously capture feedback and respond, stores can’t move as agilely or as effectively.

It’s OK to not have all the answers

As operators, you’re trained to have all the answers but all retailers were flying blind during the pandemic. Jessica says, “For the first time, we were rolling out programs without pilots and making changes daily - - - and it was OK because we were able to keep everyone in the loop and just alert them to changes. Our store teams adjusted and came along for the ride.”

Don’t lose sight of front of house

In the panic to focus on e-commerce and other channels, many retailers lost their focus on their stores. Corey shares that during the pandemic, brick and mortar was as important as ever. He says, “Customers came back. Traffic and business in stores are up. Don’t lose sight of the importance of stores.”

Retail can be agile

Zipline CEO and Co-founder Melissa Wong shared that when she was in comms, it could take years to roll out strategic imperatives. During the pandemic, massive changes took effect seemingly overnight. Taryn agrees, saying,” Retail can be agile - - I am so proud of how much we were able to accomplish as a team - - First to open in many mall locations, buy-online-ship-from-store, curbside, etc. We flexed to meet customers where they were and we proved we could move quickly and safely.”

Inspired to learn more? Watch the session in its entirety