It’s Up To Retailers To Destroy The Doom and Gloom Narrative
By Bob Phibbs
I'll get to what you can do about gloom and doom retail shortly but I want retailers to understand what is going on...
I watched the movie Bombshell last night. Kate McKinnon’s character says this about how to create news stories: “You have to adopt the mentality of an Irish street cop … Ask yourself what would scare my grandmother and what would piss off my grandfather?”
It’s a narrative lens that builds fear and anxiety. And boosts ratings.
As I scan headlines, regardless of the news source, I see a similar mentality at work, all postulating on the death of retail, the doom of store closures, or some other terrible fate
We’re being bombarded daily with consumer spending figures during coronavirus retail closures and retail industry tales that would scare anyone, grandmother or not.
Now, I’m not saying we should only report positive news, and we should definitely report what is happening in the world even if it is far from rosy, but currently, it feels like a modern-day Hunger Games where people are placing bets on what retail businesses will fail.
It’s like some sick reality show betting on which elderly celebrities won’t make it through, and seemingly, people are enjoying watching it all play out.
“Betty White or Hugh Downs?”
“I’ve got $20 that Betty won’t make it, and here’s why.”
(For those of you panicking, Betty White is completely fine and virus-free.)
In the past week, we’ve seen a number of articles postulating on the death of retail in this same way:
Nobody’s Buying Clothes Right Now. So Stores Are Filing For Bankruptcy.
Has COVID-19 Turned Fashion Into An Endangered Retail Species?
Nordstrom Can Withstand 12 Months Of Store Closures, But Other Department Stores Have Much Less Time, Analysts Say
Desperate Retailers Are Running Unprecedented Sales In A Sign Of Trouble To Come For Clothing Brands
I have to ask myself what purpose these stories serve. I don’t think stockholders find much of this information news. I also doubt it is news to the actual brands struggling to survive.
But I'll tell you who it does affect: those who work for the brands and the customers that support them.
Worry doesn’t take away tomorrow’s problems and realities, it takes away today’s strength and hope.
Presumably, these stories are somehow good for the nation.
But under the surface, they seem to simply be looking to fulfill the overworked narrative of the retail apocalypse that has been present for several years now. Digital natives push the online shopping narrative and willing media snaps up monthly increases in percentages of online sales.
A headline about upheaval in the retail landscape might get clicks, but that doesn’t validate it. This narrative hasn’t been true for the past decade, and it’s not true now.
James Whelan, the head of the Real Estate Board of New York, stated that, “The obituary of New York City has been written more than once. And it’s always been proven incorrect.”
I would say the same about the current news about retail.
Yes, retailers, like many businesses, are considering bankruptcy to get out of debt. That doesn’t necessarily mean they “will not survive” or "no one will buy clothes again" or that retailers are part of an “endangered retail species” as headlines would suggest.
Yes, bankruptcy will be painful; yes store closures will affect entire shopping districts and malls, but it will allow them to live another day and do a better job.
Let’s also not forget that, according to the National Retail Federation, “Retail supports one in four American jobs and drives a large percentage of job creation.”
We better all hope retail survives and, in fact, thrives.
I get that times are tough, really tough, but where is the balance?
I don’t want this to feel like a personal attack on those reporting retail news, I truly don't.
But I also don’t want these ghoulish stories to continue to grow unchallenged into the holiday season. I’ve said it before…
Retail and the economy run on hope.
This isn't a red state or blue state perspective. We're the same...
Without hope, all is lost.
The average consumer hears the what-ifs around store closures and bankruptcy. They become unsure about going shopping again, and that is not what we want. It’s unnecessarily scaring not just the grandmothers - but all of us - just for the sake of it.
The pundits talking about how shopping has been changed irreversibly and that brick and mortar stores are dead seem to ignore the fact that shoppers are still in Walmart and Target stores loading up just as usual.
This modern-day Hunger Games for retail may be entertaining to act out, but it has real consequences. Let me be clear...
The economy runs on hope, not fear.
Retailers need to get positive stories out there of what they are doing differently in light of COVID-19. That starts with you…
What retailers do to get a positive image of your business in the media:
1. Brainstorm one positive change you are making to your business as you prepare to re-open. Are you:
Using technology like Zoom to stay in contact with your crew you had to furlough?
Planning on bringing back your entire crew using PPP money?
Organizing a group of local merchants to adopt standardized cleaning and disinfecting of your stores?
Using social media to sell to your house-bound customers?
Making retail investments in your store operations?
Adding pay by text, video chat, or other services that help the consumer on your website or in your store?
2. Get your article teaser down to one question. It should make the listener want to know more, intrigue them, or get them to ask how you did it. Write that question down.
3. Ask a friend if they will listen to your pitch. See what their reaction is. If you don’t have someone who can positively help you, skip this and take your chances.
4. Choose your local media. Start with the ones that are free and then work up to the bigger outlets.
5. Look under the About Us or Contact Us to find the Business Editor or Executive Editor.
6. Call the Business Editor. Don’t leave a message. Call back until you get them. First, introduce yourself and ask if this is a good time. When they say,"yes," ask them your teaser question. Hopefully, they will again answer, yes. Then give them the details of what you are doing and encourage them to visit or to have a longer conversation about all you’re doing in the wake of COVID-19 to make shopping more risk-free and convenient.
What I've shared with you is the way I pitched my own success to the New York Times and rocketed my brand forward when the story published over twenty years ago when they deemed me, The Category Killer Killer.
The way forward now that businesses are starting to open, is to have a steady focus not on retail doom but on winning back your customers. That means turning off the TV, putting down your smartphone, and creating - and sharing - the positive stories that will help lift retail out of the hole we find ourselves in.
I’ve got $20 on Betty to win.
What say you?
See these other posts about retailers dealing with COVID-19:
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