Stormy Weather for Retailers

Posted on November 2, 2012 by Ana Nennig

Our CEO, Marian Salzman, said it best on Facebook a few days ago while trapped in her Connecticut home without electricity or water for her bathroom, and with the fire department on her property because of sparks from live wires: “On a morning like this, Saks trying to sell me Jimmy Choos and LivingSocial offering me five Pilates classes seems a bit distasteful. Call me practical. I just need Hefty bags, rakes and a generator.”

Since the devastating blow Sandy gave to the Northeast, we’ve all started to see the news stories about how brands and retailers have reacted to consumers during this tough time.

Bulldog Reporter covered how “newsjacking” backfired on American Apparel, quoting a store spokesman as saying, “Retail stores are the lifeline of a brand like ours, so when they are closed, we need to come up with ways to make up for that lost revenue.” He cited this as the company’s reason for promoting 20 percent off everything for 36 hours as the storm threatened—intended to relieve being “bored during the storm,” the email blast said. CEO Dov Charney was quoted in the Huffington Post as saying, “Not a serious matter.”

Other retailers have received criticism as well, such as Racked using promo codes SANDY and SANDYFREESHIP to receive discounts or deals on free shipping as store locations remained closed because of the storm, as reported by The Daily Mail. Stuart Elliott of The New York Times also wrote about this issue in his story highlighting brands that were perceived to have marketed in right and wrong ways.

Frankly, I could go on and on about the countless other brands that reacted as American Apparel did. For some reason, retailers continue, despite their best efforts, to not make the greatest decisions when considering the media climate and the disaster at hand when it comes to marketing at the right place and right time.

Retailers need to think quick but hard about the move they are going to make in the face of a devastating occurrence in the United States. They must know that they will be scrutinized … or do they?

When a retailer considers making its move, it should be asking itself these questions:

  • Will our efforts benefit those people struggling in the here and now, or help in the longer-term
    recovery efforts?
  • Does our brand or product make sense to help with the type of assistance that is needed?
  • Are we doing this to get there before our competitors do?
  • Are we doing this for the right reason?

Some brands have emerged victors in this Sandy-aftermath marketing, perhaps because they made sense to the issue at hand. Countless accolades through social media and news outlets alike have been bestowed, for instance, on Duracell, which has been offering phone-charging stations, Internet access and free batteries around the New York City area (the first stop was a PR coup in itself: Battery Park). Why was that brand successful? Because its product makes sense to those currently in need.

Back to our CEO: Marian has found a quiet hero in Panera Bread, which opened its doors with hot coffee, free Wi-Fi and a smile when similar places in her area stayed shut. Why was it successful? Because Panera’s managers and employees braved the storm to help people hit hard in the area. The last thing she and others who are continuing to suffer around the tristate area, and all along the East Coast, needs is $8 off a $40 tank top from American Apparel.

So my advice to retailers? Make sense to those in need … and stay classy.

Note: If you would like to personally support Sandy’s recovery efforts, check out this helpful guide offered by


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