Retail’s response to the pandemic: Keep giving back

By Lottie Watts
Published Feb 25, 2021

How do you take care of your customers and communities amid a pandemic?

We’re sharing remarkable stories of retailers responding to the impacts of COVID-19, as told by workers from Albertsons Companies, American Eagle, BJ’s Wholesale Club, CVS Health, Kendra Scott, Qurate Retail Group and Shake Shack.

This special episode is made possible by American Express.


They stayed open to serve communities – with changes for safety

As the pandemic began, it became clear just how important retailers are. From prescriptions to paper products and other basic needs, stores stayed open for their communities.

“We have to run our stores because we’re providing medication that’s essential,” CVS Health Senior Vice President of Field Operations Emmanuel Kolady says. “To do that, we have to have our colleagues taken care of and ensure we’re taking all the necessary steps to keep our colleagues healthy.”

BJ’s Wholesale Club was among the retailers that never closed, says Jessica Bruce, an assistant manager of operations.

“We stayed open to support our community and provide essential products to our members,” Bruce says. To do that meant several changes, from installing shields for cashiers to providing personal protective equipment and keeping shoppers and staff physically distanced.

For American Eagle Outfitters, opening the doors required some unexpected new team members.

“We hired on a chief medical officer to advise us, and we got nurses in all of our locations to help us make sense of all the information we were getting to make a safe shopping experience,” AEO Inc. Executive Vice President and General Counsel of People and Culture Stacy Siegal says.

They innovated quickly to feed people in need

Albertsons Companies expanded its help to those struggling to afford food, providing more than 13 million people with meals during the pandemic, according to Gineal Davidson, president of the grocer’s Portland, Oregon division. One way they did that was repurposing a closed store for a local food bank. 

“We opened up a dark store, and they moved into that space and were able to supply meals throughout the community to make sure the people who were really struggling could get the resources they need,” Davidson says.

Shake Shack shuttered dining rooms, shortened hours and stopped being the community gathering place it had become known for. And during lockdowns when many places were shut down but people still needed to eat, the restaurant followed the lead of their customers.

“People don’t want you close to them, and they want to keep their interactions very brief and move on, so we had to change the way we delivered hospitality,” says Carl McClure, area director of operations in Arizona. “We figured out how to make a drive-through where guests could pull up, and guests that had ordered on the app, instead of parking and walking up, they would just get in the drive-through line.”

They continued do what retail is known for: give back

The various needs of nonprofits didn’t disappear with the pandemic, but traditional, in-person events weren’t feasible. The jewelry brand Kenda Scott pivoted to sew and donate handmade masks, moved their in-store “Kendra Gives Back” fundraising events online and adapted their program that supports hospital patients.

“We were still able to do what we like to do, which is lead with our heart and bring joy to our communities,” Kendra Scott Senior Director of Philanthropy Sheena Wilde says.

Qurate Retail, Inc. (HSN, QVC and Zulily) worked to amplify the voices of small business owners through its Small Business Spotlight with the NRF Foundation.

“We all know those amazing businesses that make such a difference, and we know how much they have struggled through this pandemic,” says Mike George, Qurate’s president and CEO and National Retail Federation board chairman. “We used our airwaves and our digital platforms to tell their story, so it’s a special way to celebrate them and to encourage folks to support whatever small business is in their community.”

This special episode was made possible by American Express and is part of our free, virtual NRF Foundation All Access programming that supports students as they prepare to launch careers in retail. See the full library of on-demand content here.

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