Did any particular company win your affections during the pandemic? What shops might you have fallen in or out of love with? Who performed admirably under challenging circumstances? Who stunk the joint up?
Since lockdown began ~March 2020, I have been observing relationships between consumers and companies.
After all, companies are managed by people, and people occasionally have lapses in judgment. Every now and again, a company is blind to its relationship with its customers and stumbles. How they respond when these errors are pointed out says a lot about its management team, and how they think about their relationship with the people who keep them in business.
There were some broad policy changes and corporate behaviors that altered how some companies interacted with their customers (and society). I wonder how much this has impacted whether or not some customers want to vote with their dollars to encourage that company to keep doing what they are doing — or not. Note I am not discussing a single slight to any one person (What is more tone-deaf than a celeb whining on Twitter about flight delays to airline Twitter accounts?)
Where are people “feeling the love” – or not?
The pandemic has created very specific winners and losers – but I suspect we have yet to realize the long-term effects of how sentiment might have shifted over time.
A few companies that stood out; here are my subjective observations:
Delta: Travel (and espeically airlines) were among the first companies to get hit by lockdowns. Airline had few options, but I greatly appreciate how some – in particular Delta – responded: Their CEO emailed travelers that COVID cancelled flights would be refunded or you could choose to receive a credit in perpetuity (this was greatly appreciated). Frequent flyer miles would continue indefinitely; your flight status (Silver Medallion!) would be rolled over (meaning you wouldn’t be penalized for any lack of flying in 2020).
It was just smart customer relations by $DAL, and I will remember that the next time I have to book a flight.
Starbucks: I am a long-time consumer of Starbucks coffee (and their breakfasts). When we moved offices a few years ago from the Park Ave South region over to the Bryant Park, I had to shift my local Starbucks.
What a difference 3 blocks makes: It always took longer to get an order, even pre-ordering with the app. My favorite breakfast (egg whites / turkey bacon on English muffin) was out of stock four of five days; it’s amazing the difference service and competency a few avenues made. I share that to let you know I was primed pre-pandemic to be disappointed by $SBUX
A few articles about how successful the company was with their app and gift cards and how much money their customers had lent to them (note: this was old news) kind of piqued my curiosity. Rather than being grateful for free capital, Starbucks kicked off the pandemic by telling app users their Starbucks points (which had already become much chintzier than they once were) were soon expiring. What a thoughtless way to respond to the pandemic! It was the last straw for me, and – Adios muchachos! – I deleted my Starbucks app.
The company has gradually moved away from what made them so successful in the first place. I am not angry, its more of a disappointed shrug. As my buddy Todd Harrison always points out, the opposite of Love is not Hate, its indifference. And that is how I now feel about them.
I’m not suggesting anyone boycott Starbucks, I’ll still go, just far less frequently than I used to. They no longer give me the warm fuzzies they once did.
Amazon: A funny thing happened during the pandemic: Amazon no longer was my automatic choice for online retail purchases. Pre-pandemic, I’d hit Amazon.com automatically for nearly everything, never thinking twice about it. But during lockdown with items in short supply, I began searching and finding things elsewhere, often at significantly better prices. For the longest time, Amazon was THE low-cost provider; today, this is no longer true.
The site is filled with third parties often of dubious quality, occasionally price gouging. Every page is overwhelmed with ugly advertising – and often for the wrong item.
It was once a huge advantage having your credit card + address information on file but because of the decline of the entire Amazon experience, people set up accounts at competitors: Chewy, Walmart, target, Google Wallet, lots more.
Don’t get me wrong: Amazon will still be the beneficiary of my online spending; but the pandemic has led me to lots of new relationships with many other companies. Assuming others did the same, the net result will be declining Amazon market share over the next decade.
YouTube: We all understand Netflix and Amazon Prime and HBO Max, and I thought I understood YouTube. But over the past two years, I have been continually astonished by the breadth and depth of YouTube’s massive collection of videos. My appreciation for what they have created continues to grow and compound. It is nothing short of astonishing.
Pre-pandemic, I spent time on a handful of automobile and music videos. Today, I use the site as a resource for cooking, home repairs, figuring out how to change the date on an antique watch, adjusting the carburetor an old Vette, building a bat house, installing nerf bars on the Jeep, potty training a puppy, just about anything you want to learn how to do. And that’s before we get to endless entertainment and education choices.
Whatever I previously thought about YouTube, its probably 100X that size. Amazing!
What’s App/Google Translate/World Remit/Remitly: I mentioned this previously, but What’sApp ($FB) combined with Google Translate ($GOOG) and global transfer apps has made it very easy to do busines around the world. This made specific overseas sales, purchases, shipping, etc. possible. Just a decade ago, this required incredible expertise and resources. Today, there is an app for that.
Local Restaurants: Restaurants were hard hit by pandemic, and we have been saddened by the loss of some that were like old friends to us. But a lot of restaurants exhibited entrepreneurship and savvy as they adapted as best as they could to a challenging set of circumstances. Some built sidewalk sheds, others filled their patios with gas heaters, and all of the survivors tacked towards take out.
I have been especially impressed and how productive and efficient some restaurants have become at this. One of our favorable local joints separate the burger from the bun, fixins, and fries to keep everything from getting soggy. Others do something similar with all of their dishes. the effort has not gone unnoticed.
Even when you’re doing takeout, you should always tip generously as much of the staff at restaurants are paid via gratuities.
Others had mixed results: I was furious at Toyota for being one of the first car companies to back the insurrectionists in Congress, but other car companies (like Ford) soon followed. Live Nation/TicketMaster did pretty okay and they barely stayed alive, but I heard of people who had much worse experiences than I did. There were lots of companies that donated to local food banks and generally were good corporate citizens, but there were too many exceptions to that observations.
What companies impressed you over the past year or two? Which ones disappointed you?
The Cutting Edge (September 30, 2021)
America’s CEOs Are Having a Good Year (February 19, 2021)