Holiday Summit Spotlight: Planning Around Ecommerce Bottlenecks This Holiday

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This blog post covers Sarah Rasmusen’s session (No Tears This Holiday: Planning Around Ecommerce Bottlenecks), focusing on:

  • Lands’ End’s customer profile
  • Lands’ Ends’ pandemic reaction: how they prepared for the worst, which tests they ran
  • What retail will look like post COVID-19
  • Q+A between Scott Silverman and Rasmusen

It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has made 2020 a difficult year for the ecommerce industry. And with the holiday season rapidly approaching, companies are navigating the uncharted territory of being in peak during a pandemic. Some companies have handled the pandemic well, not hesitating to take on the challenge. One such success story is Lands’ End (LE), which generated $312M in Q2 sales, up 4.6% from Q2 2019, and 44% up from Q1 2020.

In the session “No Tears This Holiday: Planning Around Ecommerce Bottlenecks” at CommerceNext Holiday Summit, Sarah Rasmusen (Chief Customer Officer at Lands’ End), provided a guideline for how LE has successfully handled operations during the pandemic, and how others can look to their strategy for the holidays and beyond.


Customer Profile

Rasmusen’s presentation centered around the idea that companies will thrive with a focus on their customer. As with any retailer, Lands’ End’s customer profile is key to operating successfully.

A few details of their customer base:

  • “decidedly female”
  • Boomers
  • Married
  • College educated
  • High income
  • She buys for herself and for him

Additionally, their target customer acquisition audience is Gen X, so their marketing methods would not match what is seen for Gen Z or Millennials. By highlighting the customer profile, LE can know “how to take care of her during the season.”

Pandemic Reaction

Rasmusen touched on three major points in LE’s pandemic reaction, hoping to not only provide words of advice to other companies, but also to share how LE handled the situation.

Hope Is Not A Strategy

When the news about COVID-19 hit in the early months of March and April, LE did not take on the mindset of “this’ll get better” but instead started acting “like the sky was falling,” questioning the extremes: what does it mean if we can’t ship a package? What happens if the Wisconsin governor says we can’t open our distribution centers? This helped them prepare for the worst, because according to Rasmusen, “starting from a place of 0 was a way for us to work very tight, very thin, very sharp, and very bright.” This was not unlike how LE would operate the website on Cyber Monday.

Test Early, Test Often

In normal circumstances, LE would run tests in March and April that would prepare them for peak, but being in the midst of a pandemic forced them to jump right in. Whereas usually they would let tests sit longer to hit more confidence and critical mass on their findings, their data became necessary for use in April/May/June. Their tests included a range of things, from pricing to products to catalog mailing.

It’s A Good Time To Be In The Elastic-Waist Pant Business

With “Let’s Get Comfy” being LE’s tagline, they were able to concentrate on their core strength. Instead of trying to find something new, they leaned into the core customer and the core product. This strong focus gave LE the direction needed to successfully adapt to being an ecommerce business in COVID-19.

Retail Post-Pandemic

Although the pandemic is far from over, LE has learned many lessons in 2020 and has shifted priorities for moving forward in 2021. Rasmusen outlined three main “buckets” of what customers will find important:

  1. Expanded Distribution: LE is now live and online in Kohl’s, is growing Amazon business, and internally creating their own marketplace
  2. Customer Expectations: Customers will be meeting LE in more places than ever, which means self-service must also grow to meet her needs.
  3. Consumer Privacy Expansion

To end the session, Scott Silverman facilitated a Q&A with Rasmusen, focusing on management and leadership adaptations, customer expectations, and how to stay customer-centric during this time.

Management And Leadership Adjustments/Adaptations

Adjusting to the pandemic forced LE to clear out parts of the work process and focus on the essentials. They paired back reports, meetings, and were more exclusive on who got to make certain decisions. The catchphrase used among employees, “Be bright, be brief, be gone” helped them move forward and not get stuck deliberating on every little detail.

Current Infrastructure

One advantage of being primarily ecommerce is that LE is used to an influx of business during peak, so their operation and peak times do not change.

Setting Customer Expectations For Retail During A Pandemic

LE has an established customer-centric culture, which makes them well equipped for the holiday season. Rasmusen shared two strategies that they will use to create a positive customer experience:

  1. Every holiday season, employees of all rank help out at the warehouse (with adjustments made this year for COVID-19 safety)
  2. Doubling down on customer communication: instead of sending the usual one update in the space between order confirmation and order status, they plan to send potentially three, four, five, or any number of messages to keep customers in the loop

Words Of Wisdom And How To Stay Customer-Centric

Rasmusen shared a couple of helpful phrases for teams to employ during this time:

  • “Better is better”—make progress, and don’t aim for perfection;
  • “Improvise, adapt, overcome”—a favorite of Jerome Griffith (CEO)

Right now, simple messages are sticking because teams are able to see them in practice from employees of all rank, so they feel comfortable acting that way as well. To motivate teams, Rasmusen advised the audience to “inspire through your actions, and keep your words simple.”

Watch the full session and others from CommerceNext Holiday Summit on our YouTube Channel.