How Brands Are Using E-Commerce to Rescue Sales


The retail climate is spiraling in the time of Coronavirus. Many retailers are facing existential challenges. Doors have closed. Employees have been laid off or furloughed. Many brands that already have at least some online sales operations in place are using e-commerce to rescue sales during troubled times.

This is especially true for the apparel industry.

With social distancing guidelines in place across the UK, Europe and the U.S., people just don’t have the need to dress up. Still, with everyone stuck at home, Athleisure brands may be in a position to do quite well. One example is Bandier.

Bandier: In flow with the times.

Athleisure company Bandier started with a focus on experiential retail, with stores that provided workout classes and coffee bars, attracting an upscale clientele at fashionable locations.

But online sales were doing even better, and by the end of 2019 they were netting 50 percent of Bandier’s overall profits.

Bandier picked a lucky moment to start emphasizing e-commerce.

Ironically, the company launched a new campaign called “In Pursuit Of” that aims to spread the message of keeping healthy and staying active.That was in February.

Shortly after this relaunch, Bandier was forced to shutter its seven store locations due to COVID-19. Showing resilience, Bandier continued to fostera sense of community around exercise through its social media presence.

Starting in March, it transitioned its workout studio, “Studio B,” to its Instagram account. Thanks to that move, the firm now reports a 50 percent increase in sweat pants sales, which already accounted for 20 percent of its business. Through that initiative, Bandier managed to retain 100 percent of its workforce.

Lululemon: Stores become temporary shipping warehouses

Another Athleisure brand, Lululemon, plans to step up its technology and omnichannel efforts as its physical stores in North America and Europe remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lululemon has found that a crisis can spur innovation in e-commerce operations. With a balance sheet that started out healthy, that they were able to get creative with its existing physical assets. Until the pandemic subsides and life gets back to normal, Lululemon plans to use its closed stores as ship-from-store locations to fulfill e-commerce orders. While Lululemon’s e-commerce operations won’t completely replace physical sales, it’s a better position for bouncing back.

Lululemon investigating claims that factory workers are beaten and ...

Another strategic advantage is that Lululemon is vertically integrated so it controls its own supply chain, and enjoys ongoing relationships with its vendors and customers.

As a long-term strategy, Lululemon is foregoing things like store remodels to invest more of its resources in technology, and it’s also starting to use omnichannel tools.

Nike: An “Old China Hand”

Wtih millions in Europe and the U.S. living under lockdowns, Nike is looking for the opportunity to get more of its customers away from brick-and-mortar shopping, towards digital.

China sales had been going very strong before the virus hit Wuhan.

But Nike is bouncing back quickly, thanks to its pre-existing strong technology base such as e-commerce and training apps, supply-chain mastery, and its approach to reopening stores. As of Tuesday, 80% of its 7,000 stores in Greater China have reopened, including one in Wuhan, and digital sales are booming.

Smart Strategy: Nike introduced its workout apps right after the Coronavirus hit China. This move gained them an 80% increase in users and a 30% boost in online sales. It wants to do the same in the U.S.and in Europe.

The entire China experience is informing Nike’s approach to how it is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic in North America and Europe, where the outbreak has come later, and stores are largely closed.

Petsmart/Chewy: Pre-positioned for success.

In 2017, pet products retailing giant PetSmart acquired Chewy, an upstart e-commerce retailer with an extensive pet product line of its own. The purchase was the largest e-commerce acquisition in history, at a price of $3.35 billion. Chewy was still churning through cash on new customer acquisition, but it had built a strong base of repeat customers and was seen by PetSmart as a smart turnkey acquisition, rather than trying to develop its own e-commerce division.

That was another smart move in pre-positioning. Besides acquiring an entire e-commerce division overnight, doubling down in the pet products market solidified the company as an “essential goods” retailer. Even in economic downturns–or pandemics– people still need to feed and care for their pets.

The surge in demand it is seeing right now leaves it well- positioned to weather the Coronavirus crisis. Chewy has had to hire upwards of 10,000 new employees to handle order fulfillment.

Small businesses get creative to survive

Small businesses are pivoting in various creative ways to hold onto customers.

Camp, a toy chain whose marketing focus was getting shoppers into the physical experience inside its stores, now hosts virtual birthday parties and sells curated gift boxes instead.

Politics and Prose, a bookstore in Washington D.C., began streaming author talks and initiated a curbside pickup service for online orders.

Powell’s City of Books, a famous bookseller in Portland, Oregon, was wondering if their 50-year old business would have to close its doors permanently, but mention of its peril in the media resulted in a huge surge of online orders from its thousands of dedicated fans nationwide, who are now placing online orders just to make sure their favorite bookstore won’t close forever. A week after the story appeared in the media, the company rehired 100 employees to handle online order fulfillment from the downtown store, a cavernous 5-story building that doubles as its own warehouse. Powell’s already had a robust e-commerce site, and so was prepared to meet the challenge.

E-commerce ramp-ups are easier said than done.

For companies that had focused their efforts predominantly on brick-and-mortar, such as off-price retailers TJX Companies Inc. and Burlington, ramping up online operations is easier said than done. Burlington even announced plans early in February to exit its online business.

The Coronavirus pandemic has showcased the power of the direct-to-consumer model for brands. For example, Purell and Charmin, both of which have products in high demand right now, don’t have their own ecommerce platforms. Instead, their websites point to retailers where their products are sold.

Retailers scrambling to more fully develop their e-commerce sites are now trying to play catchup in hyper-drive mode. But setting up a robust e-commerce site and supply chains can be quite complicated, for large retailers especially.

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