Why Retailers Are Moving Forward With Tech Initiatives Despite Covid-19

April 27, 2020

Business leaders often compare their work to leading a great athletic team. Success depends upon teamwork, motivating players, working well under pressure and effectively managing people to bring their best selves to work every day. It’s no surprise, then, that lululemon, the apparel retailer that outfits so many tenacious athletes, is showing itself to be a leader during this pandemic.

A Retail Dive brief reports that lululemon, despite impacts from the coronavirus outbreak “across its markets is sticking to its Power of Three growth plan after closing a $1.4 billion fourth quarter. In sports terms, we call this ‘beast mode.’

Other retailers are showing similar winning attitudes despite the current situation. They know that investing now will allow them to emerge as better, more agile companies after Covid-19.  L.L.Bean was ready to launch big technology initiatives just as the pandemic was closing stores around the globe. Rather than delay the projects, the company decided to move forward. We recently sat down with Corey Bouyea, Sr. Manager Store Operations, to learn more.


Did Covid-19 impact your technology-related strategic initiatives?


While the situation remains fluid and evolving, we have not made any significant changes to our strategic initiatives for retail stores.  We continue to be optimistic for the store openings we had planned pre-Covid-19 (although timing could shift) and we continue to be excited about the full replacement of our FOH and BOH point of sale and in-store inventory systems to enable enhanced omni-channel capabilities in the future.

Like many others, we have decided to defer other major capital projects in existing stores and continue to look for opportunities to minimize expense, optimize labor and appropriately manage inventory levels for the current year.


Why did you decide to move forward with certain projects and not others?


To remain competitive in this changing landscape you need to have the right technology solutions. The work we are doing to replace our FOH and BOH systems enables greater omni-channel capabilities for our customers and we stand behind this effort. Other projects that have been deferred, while important, will be re-evaluated as the landscape, customer expectations and new social norms become more clear.


What do you think about technology’s role in a post-Covid-19 world?


Omni-channel capabilities are increasingly important to customers.  A whole new cohort of customers is getting exposed to these technologies for the first time and this experience will likely shift their habits for the long term. For example, customers that don’t want to be in stores when they reopen will opt for curbside pickup, buy online and pick up in store or explore versions of virtual shopping. In addition, there will be greater demand for check out experiences that are quick, fast and easy (i.e. mobile checkout, self-checkout, easy returns etc.). 

Although technology is important, it will never fully replace the personalized in-person experience of brick and mortar. Exceptional store experiences and top quality products will continue to thrive and technology will only help facilitate that further.

The new normal will require exceptional store execution in all facets of health, safety, cleanliness, service and store operations. Technology can help enable that end-to-end. Top of mind for us is how to ensure the health and safety of our customers and employees by leveraging Zipline, our task management and communication platform. We are using it to drive actionable, relevant communication with store teams while we audit/monitor execution in all stores, at all times. 

Learning and knowledge base communications will also be top priorities as retailers wrestle with new ways to deliver content to all levels in a retail store, especially since we are unlikely to see all store meetings/training in the short-medium term. How our store teams interact with each other and with customers will change. How we create learning content, deliver that content and measure the effectiveness of that content is paramount.  We’ve done a ton of work at L.L.Bean in this space but recent events simply remind us how important it is to continue to raise the bar to ensure our people know the what, who, how and when of everything we do.

Finally, although I do miss the office, remote work will be more important than ever, especially as we learn more about the spread of coronavirus and how to stay safe. Many companies will also find that productivity did not suffer; Teams remained intact and most importantly, we all still had fun working together. Remote work is opening us all up to the new opportunities present to work different, smarter and more effectively.


What have you learned about your team and your company during this crisis?


I’ve always believed that in times of challenge, like this, the strong get stronger. We’ve seen ups and downs of business for over 100 years and this pandemic is no different. We’ve learned that our years of business continuity planning, our terrific teams and absolute adherence to our core values (one of them, Perseverance,) are the blueprint for everything we do. People have come together in these last six weeks to achieve remarkable, inspiring feats of work.  Most importantly everyone is working together to be empathetic, compassionate and flexible for the variety of unique situations we are all facing – it’s humbling to see.  There is a long road ahead — we are rallying together and preparing for the arrival of our new normal and when it arrives – we will be ready!

If you would like to learn more about how L.L.Bean manages its store communications, please reach out. We would love to share more. 

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