Published on: March 12, 2020
This commentary is available as a video, above, or as text, below. They are similar, though not identical; enjoy both, or either.
Hi, Kevin Coupe here and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.
One of the byproducts of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has been that a lot of businesses have been reaching out to their customers.
Those of us who spend a lot of time on airplanes have been hearing frequently from the companies with which we do business. We haven't always liked what these airlines have been saying - I wrote earlier this week about how I thought their policies toward change fees left a lot to be desired - but with every passing day they seem to be getting more flexible and accommodating. So that's a good thing … and I have been impressed by the degree to which they've tried to be good communicators.
Not surprisingly, I've also been hearing from a lot of the online travel services with which I often book flights and hotels, informing me about their policies and initiatives - even though I don't have anything booked with them at the moment. Again, that's a good thing. Communication is good.
It has been a little surprising that we haven't heard a whisper from Airbnb, with which we do have a booking. A little information and a demonstration of simple awareness would be a good thing. Radio silence? That's a bad thing.
I got an email the other day from Nordstrom, designed to reassure me with information about their cleaning policies, how they are assuring that their employees are either healthy or getting the care they need, and reminding me that if I need something and don't want to go the store, I can always go to Nordstrom's website. I don't begrudge them the sales pitch - they are communicating with me, and that's a good thing.
One thing that has really surprised me is the fact that I haven't gotten so much as an email or text message from any food retailer with which I do business or that has my email in their customer databases. Absolutely nothing. I just don't understand that - people go to supermarkets more often than they go to any other retail establishment, which makes them prime candidates to inform shoppers and illuminate the situation. This is the time to reassure people about the food supply, tell people about the stores' employment policies, and just generally be an institution that people can trust and rely upon. But again, as a consumer, I've heard nothing.
I'm not saying that no food retailers are talking to their shoppers this way. I'm sure there are some. But not the ones that have me on their mailing lists. To me, this is an opportunity missed … and none of the retailers that have not reached out should ever complain about losing customers to the competition. They don't deserve loyalty, because they haven't demonstrated any.
One of the best emails I got was from Tom Douglas, whose restaurant company is based in Seattle - which is sort of the center of the maelstrom. I'm a big Tom Douglas fan, and often have written here about Morgan, the best bartender on the planet, who works at Etta's just north of the Pike Place Market.
Douglas's letter talked a little about the situation there, commenting that "we are a strong, resilient city, but this crisis is going to take every one of us to stay vigilant for our neighbors and care for the underserved."
Douglas talked about the safety protocols in place at his establishments, and noted that all of his restaurants have dramatically cut back hours simply because people in Seattle aren't going out to eat or drink very much.
And then he wrote something kind of cool: " If you are working from home or unable to go out and dine," he wrote, "I am going to start a simple video cooking series next week from our Hot Stove Society cooking school. These videos will offer easy, quick one-pot meal suggestions, utilizing a few fun recipes with items you might already have in your pantry."
That was so great - it establishes that Tom Douglas and his restaurants are part of the community, and want to create a sense of community that envelops both employees and customers.
The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak is creating enormous uncertainty in the culture and the economy. A lot of people and companies are going to suffer, but there's no excuse for not building on the foundation of community that good retailers already have established.
Of course, if that foundation doesn't exist, it probably is too late. Those retailers have a malady, but it isn't a coronavirus.
That's what is on my mind this morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.
Content Guy's Note: Last night, after I'd recorded this video commentary, I got an actual email from a food retailer - Dorothy Lane Market, where I'm on the mailing list because I shop at the DLM online site. This email, sent to all its customers and signed by Norman Mayne and Calvin Mayne, did everything one could ask - it laid out the stores' food safety and employee policies and procedures, and explain what DLM is doing to keep its people and customers safe. And then, it concluded:
"Part of the very fiber of our culture is to always do the right thing. We are your local grocer. We live here with you. We eat the same wonderful food that we sell to you. We love our community and we will continue to give you our very best every day."
As I sit here this morning, I've gotten informational emails from Trader Joe's and Starbucks. So perhaps the dam has broken a bit.
One other note. While I commented admiringly of how Tom Douglas was handling the Seattle crisis, the Seattle Times reported last night after I recorded the FaceTime video that he will "temporarily close all his 12 restaurants effective Sunday."
Spokesperson Madeline Dow Pennington said that sales at his restaurants had declined 90 percent since the outbreak began, and it was only after long discussion and analysis that this decision was reached. Management hopes to reopen the restaurants within eight to 12 weeks, if market conditions improve.
I am bereft. I worry for all these businesses, and I am concerned about my friend Morgan.