"Keep your head up. 2021 is going to be great!"
That message is emblazoned – in sunshine colors - in the windows of Nordstrom's flagship store in downtown Seattle. And yes, on a drizzly January day in Seattle, it was a welcome sight this morning. A nice pep talk for us all.
And a fitting message to follow our reflections on the year we just experienced.
Since March 2 of 2020, our From The Co-Founders commentary has been focused on the pandemics. Revisiting those was quite the "year in review" experience.*
- From March 2: "This is no time to overreact, nor to be dismissive. Look for the facts!"
- And, "Our focus is on those impacts that demand the most judgment from owners."
Indeed, there were plenty of those judgment-demanding opportunities for owners! What we came to call "the fog of uncertainty" demanded unrelenting flexibility tests of retailers. Here are a few samples from the last 10 months:
- From "How do we best protect our customers and employees?" to "When we can re-open, should we? If so, WHAT should we re-open? For which customers? With which vendors? What merchandise mix?"
- We welcomed the arrival into the 21st century of what were previously known as "technology laggards." Five years of new technology adoption was crammed into just a few months by a high percentage of retailers.
- Retailers are the ultimate people-people; they really missed their customers! We cheered the resourcefulness and ingenuity of independents who found new ways to stay connected with their customers. You were amazing!
- We continued a steady drumbeat of "use the lead time," to do several what-if financial plans to project cash flow, adjust buying plans, reconsider expenses; and offered free access to some of our online calculators to enable that.
- By mid-summer, we identified a "Pandemic Trifecta." There was not just one pandemic, but three of them: the Covid-19 pandemic, the economic meltdown pandemic, and then the civil unrest pandemic. Three pandemics!
- We applauded the clear messaging of one retailer: "No Mask. No Service. No Way. No How." What a great way to take your employees off the hook.
- Some weeks we urged retailers to not miss the opportunities of a crisis; it's a great cover for all kinds of changes! Or ways to deal with landlords that are "better than begging." Or reminders to keep the fun in retailing. Or, that when the customers can come back, "Believe it! A second chance to make a good first impression!"
All of this is relevant as we embark on 2021.
Our conviction of March 23, 2020 that "Even as painful and disruptive as the pandemic is at this moment, we must remind ourselves that it will subside. It's not whether it will subside, just when."
Well okay then. We're all still waiting.
And according to economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal**, we may have to wait a bit more. "Firms face a difficult first quarter as Covid-19 cases surge, but stimulus and vaccines offer hope for a snapback in the second half of 2021." But, as economists view the world, that IS light at the end of the tunnel.
Meanwhile, we will embrace the spirit of the message from Nordstrom, expressing the attitude of retailers: "Keep your head up. 2021 is going to be great!"
* See Perspectives on The ROI site to see all Covid-19 commentary From The Co-Founders. (It's worthwhile!)
** "Economists Expect Tough Sledding in Winter, Then a Rebound." Harriett Torry, The Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2021.