One Retailer’s Pandemic Survival Plan

One Retailer’s Pandemic Survival Plan

One Retailer’s Pandemic Survival Plan

One Retailer’s Pandemic Survival Plan

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The pandemic has flattened many retailers, but I want to tell you about one that has adapted and thrived.

At Snipes USA, a chain of about 100 stores that sell sneakers, athletic apparel and more, sales are actually far higher than the company planned for this year.

How? It was a lesson in being willing to change everything on the fly as the pandemic upended how people shopped, and of smart people working in tandem with technology. Luck helped, too.

“We absolutely pivoted as an organization and did it in two days,” said Jenna Flateman Posner, vice president of digital for Snipes. “I would call us a Covid success story.”

A snapshot of those changes: When the coronavirus started to spread, Snipes quickly redirected merchandise from stores to online shipment warehouses. Workers packing delivery orders were also split into two groups to isolate any potential coronavirus infections.

That idea bubbled up, Posner said, from the “Covid Sucks Retail Roundtable,” a weekly gathering of executives from sometime rival companies who teamed up to share tactics for the pandemic.

Technology investments — both existing and new ones for the crisis — also paid off. To streamline online purchases, particularly when some stores were temporarily closed, Snipes leaned on software to speed up its website and make the shopping process faster.

The Snipes website started giving people tailored pop-up messages to inform them whether their local store had limited the number of shoppers, shifted entirely to curbside pickup orders or made other changes because of the pandemic. Snipes also used software from a company called Forter to automate how it spotted fraudulent credit card purchases, freeing up customer service employees to do other things. “Without it we would have been annihilated,” Posner said.

None of this sounds like fancy tech, I know. The reality is there are no silver bullets — technology or otherwise — for managing through a health crisis that shifted people’s shopping habits in a flash and forced everyone, whether the local coffee shop or Walmart, to become makeshift epidemiologists. Posner said every little change at Snipes added up.

Snipes also caught a few breaks. It sells the kind of stuff that people have been eager to buy in the pandemic, including comfy slippers and loungewear for people spending more time at home.

There’s been a debate about whether the pandemic will permanently change how Americans shop, including doing much more ordering from home. Posner said she thought that there was no going back on the surge in shopping online, but that it would go hand-in-hand with physical stores.

Online orders, which Posner said generated about 10 percent of Snipes’s annual sales before the pandemic, were settling in at perhaps 15 to 20 percent. Snipes stores are mostly open again and people are eagerly shopping in person. A large share of online orders also are packaged and shipped in stores.

Posner said that she was impressed how lots of retailers large and small changed what they did on a dime. It was change or die. “As much as this has sucked, it’s been an awesome thing to witness how retail has pivoted,” Posner said.

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Is the best way to counteract emotionally manipulative information with different emotionally manipulative information?

Some of the criticism about the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma” has said that it is hyperbolic and fixated on an overly simplistic narrative that Facebook, Twitter and other internet sites were intentionally designed to exploit human behavior and are to blame for problems like mental illness and social polarization.

My colleague Kevin Roose, a technology columnist for The New York Times, tweeted that, yes, “The Social Dilemma” does simplistically pin the blame on internet companies, but maybe that’s a good thing. Emotionless and nuanced narratives are harder to get across — and maybe are less effective at changing people’s minds — than stoking outrage and pointing the finger at a bad guy.

I get the point of fighting internet fire with fire, in this case to sound the alarm about legitimate harms from internet sites like Facebook. That’s a similar approach to some left-wing YouTube personalities and the Lincoln Project, which purposefully use the mocking and pugilistic tactics of some of the internet’s worse humans to try to counteract the messages of those same humans.

The pragmatic part of me understands and respects these tactics. The idealistic part of me hates that the way to persuade people is by accepting that the emotional and simplistic has more appeal than facts and nuance.

  • The false front of a dangerous conspiracy: Kevin Roose wrote that QAnon believers’ efforts to spread false and exaggerated claims about a global child-trafficking conspiracy helped attract newcomers and evade a crackdown by internet companies.

  • The cost of keeping kids at home: ProPublica has a long article on what one vulnerable student in Baltimore lost when he wasn’t physically in school anymore and was detached from his interactions with teachers and peers. The article is also a history of how disruptions in public education — from war, segregation or natural disasters — have sometimes hurt children’s income and health for life.

  • “Ransomware” is out of control: Hackers who cripple computer systems of companies and organizations until a ransom is paid have in recent days released Social Security numbers and other private information of Las Vegas students, and forced a big hospital chain to cancel surgeries and switch to paper patient records, The Wall Street Journal reported.

A boy sent a message in a bottle to the tooth fairy. The tooth fairy — who may live in Dayton, Ohio — wrote back. (I am from Dayton. I am not the tooth fairy.)

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