What Did 9/11 Mean for Retail?

Discussion
Sep 09, 2011
George Anderson

This is not a column I want to write. I hope I get it right. My apologies if I don’t.

While it’s natural just a couple of days away from the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to reflect back on that day and those that followed, it also is emotionally and physically uncomfortable trying to find the right words sitting just 22 miles away from the site of the World Trade Center.

I’m having trouble getting past the thought that on Sunday, I may walk into a local deli and see one of my daughter’s friends working behind the counter. She lost her father on that day — her birthday. Still I know that if I see her, she’ll greet me with a smile and welcome my best birthday wishes without a hint of sorrow. I’ve never told her, but she’s one of my heroes.

Thinking back to the days before Sept. 11, 2001, I remember we were still in a recession that began in March and many at a trade show I was attending were less than positive about the prospects for their companies and the retailing business as a whole. The new President wasn’t very popular at the time.

I recall the morning of Sept. 11 packing to leave for the Palm Springs airport and calling to tell my wife I was trying to catch an earlier flight home to New Jersey. She asked me how I was able to get through on the phone. Had I seen the television? Turning on the set, I saw images my mind still can’t accept. I remember my daughter taking the phone from her mother and pleading with me not to fly home. I remember crying.

Several numbing days followed in a hotel room waiting for a flight home. With shame, I now recall the nervousness I felt when boarding the plane because several bearded men, included one wearing traditional Arabic dress, had gotten on board ahead of me. I had to remind myself then that this was America and members of my own family had been labeled terrorists in another country because of their Catholicism. There were no problems on that flight or any I’ve taken since.

It was a full year before RetailWire ran its first article on terrorism and retail. The piece focused on threats to the food supply. I recall being a bit confused (in my naivety) that so few seemed to think the industry should do more to protect the supply chain. The argument against was it would cost too much and neither companies nor consumers would want to pay for the added security — unless something went wrong.

On the fifth year anniversary of 9/11, a RetailWire piece looked at terrorists targeting soft targets, such as retail locations, for possible attacks. The poll with the story found that 44 percent believed merchants were more prepared for an attack than five years earlier; 42 percent said preparation levels were the same as in 2001 and six percent said they were less ready.

It’s been said by numerous politicians and commentators that Sept. 11 changed everything. Maybe it has, I’m not sure. I’ll leave it to you to find your own answers.

Discussion Question: How did the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 2001 affect the retailing business in the days and years that followed?

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12 Comments on "What Did 9/11 Mean for Retail?"


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Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 8 months ago
First of all, a beautiful piece George. Next, to the question. Americans have notoriously short memories except for anniversaries which we would largely forget without media overkill. The interesting thing about 9/11 is that most of us like to think of it in mytho-historical terms — how we remember where we were, what we felt, who we lost viewed through the filter of the often told story. Others prefer to see it as a modern Passion Play with the one-dimensional forces of evil versus vying for control of the planet the equally one-dimensional forces of good. Still others may be more philosophical as you were George (and I confess I have been myself) wondering if the 9/11 gang were that much different from the old “boyos” of the original IRA, or the members of the Stern Gang in what was to become Israel or dozens of other groups of freedom fighters whom we now eagerly embrace as heroes even if their methods were identical (on a far more modest scale) to those we daily denounce.… Read more »
Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
9 years 8 months ago

9-11 was such an enormous shock to this country that I think we still don’t know exactly what to do or think about it, ten years later. Many people would like to forget, but the families and friends of victims certainly can’t.

Regarding retail, I think everything stopped for a couple of weeks and the reverberations were strong for a long time. Since then, it seems we’ve had one economic crisis after the next so maybe we’ve all gotten numb and tried to just do our jobs and move retail forward as best we can.

Anne Howe
Guest
9 years 8 months ago
I was in NYC the previous week trying to close a million dollar retail promotion program with an internationally owned legwear company. The Italian owners were to come in to the US the following week to approve the budget. They refused to come, the promotion never happened. A year’s worth of planning down the drain. Thankfully, my clients/friends, while still in the city, were out of harm’s way and were able to get a train back to North Carolina. That is only one million dollar story. In the weeks that followed, we heard so many more stories from the fashion sector, particularly in the department store channel. The disruption caused by terrorists certainly affected retailing, but more importantly, it affected the flow of a lot of other promotion spending because so many people felt that promotion, for a year or more, didn’t feel right in the face of so much loss and despair. I’m not bitter about losing that deal. I’m grateful that as a nation, a wonderful American spirit emerged from the tragedy, and… Read more »
Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

The only significant thing that has changed is that people in general are more vigilant, and more likely to question something that just doesn’t seem right. That, potentially, is significant. I’d like to say that new technology, in logistics particularly, is a factor, but I’m not convinced. Lots of training took place shortly after the attacks, but most people have forgotten it already, or they no longer really take it seriously. Ours is a pretty open society, and terrorist attacks would not be difficult. I’m surprised we’ve escaped as well as we have so far.

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
9 years 8 months ago

Unless you are counting airlines as retailers (which some analysts do), I don’t think 9/11 has changed retail much at all. Despite numerous calls for a more comprehensive food/medicine safety program, it really hasn’t happened, and I don’t think shopping patterns or behaviors changed in the long term due to 9/11. This does not discount the significance or importance of 9/11 to the United States, but I haven’t seen a real impact on retail.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
9 years 8 months ago

Aside from the obvious drop in sales and the immediate economic struggles that occurred right after, all of my current clients at the time had put in requests for emergency management plans. While most larger retailers have had these in place, smaller chains never thought to have some sort of emergency event SOP. There was a strong focus on protecting people and assets from disaster. On a side note, the Grade 2 children in the iconic George Bush picture during 9/11 are all high school seniors now.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
9 years 8 months ago
September 11th did change everything – for about a year. America had not suffered an attack on the continental US for almost 200 years. Americans embraced a feeling they were not used to – personal insecurity for themselves and their families. All manner of strange things happened. As hard as it is to believe today, there was actually comity and cooperation among our elected officials. People flew less, vacationed less, and the home furnishings business blossomed as more and more Americans “nested”. The mood of the country became more serious and more reserved. As the years passed without another incident, however, this new-found seriousness passed and America regained their sense of personal security and got back to, well, being America. Then came Katrina, followed by the Housing/Financial collapse. As with 9/11, these monstrous events had implications for the national sense of well-being. But did they change anything permanently? In my view, they did not. Americans are Americans, the most resilient people the world has ever seen. Are we better prepared for another terrorist attack? The… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

George, this is a beautifully written article.

I have never gotten any “warm fuzzies” that retailers are much better prepared now than they were prior to 9/11. Maybe behind the scenes they are. I sure hope so. Yet I do not see them as being targets. The terrorists are more for the big splash that gets them noticed. Unfortunately.

I have seen some well done segments on TV commemorating 9/11. Like the Holocaust and Pearl Harbor, we should never forget. This needs to be passed on to the generations that follow who were not witnesses to these tragedies.

Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
9 years 8 months ago

9/11 still affects the airline industry, cross-border traffic (including commercial shipments and business trips) and on a more anecdotal (and sad) note– flight schools, I am sure. But these are largely areas that the average shopper does not think about when shopping at the local mall. I also believe that 9/11 has made us aware that sourcing oil for politically unstable countries is a dangerous proposition. While there is no clear alternative to oil yet, I think most North Americans understand that our dependence on oil is a problem and a risk.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 8 months ago
I was on the East Coast working with a retail client on Sept 11, and ended up driving a rental car home to LA the following two days. Eerie, surreal drive, to say the least. On Thursday, almost home, somewhere in the AZ desert, I saw a freight train with what I counted to be at least 50 U.S. Marine Tanks loaded on flat cars heading east along Interstate 10. Being out of cell phone range at that moment, I was wondering if LA was even still going to be there, still reeling from the destruction back East. I think retailers are still far too vulnerable to potential terrorist attacks. I won’t suggest examples here in this public forum of how they could attack us through retail, however retailers need to think about these threats and do everything possible to help prevent future attacks. Yes, this will require investment, however the goodwill and awareness created by that retailer on how they are responding to threats should reap ROI for them in consumer loyalty to a… Read more »
Joseph LaRocca
Guest
Joseph LaRocca
9 years 8 months ago
Everyone has their own story from that tragic day and the images along with personal reactions are seared into our memories. That day changed the role of government, the private sector and every American, forever. Retailers have played a significant role in the helping shape our nation’s disaster response, relief and preparedness over the last decade. From fighting terrorism through vigilant observation and reporting protocols, to the public-private sector relationships established to keep our stores and shopping centers safe – we make a difference. Though many of us felt helpless on that horrible day ten years ago, we should feel empowered knowing that there are opportunities for us now to plan ahead to keep shoppers, employees, and our families safe in the future. Just look at the massive response and communication efforts happening now with the terrorist threat in New York/Washington, the major power outage in Southern California yesterday, or the ongoing flooding in the Mid-Atlantic area. The challenges remain, but we have made progress. This weekend we memorialize the nearly 3,000 people who were… Read more »
Jackie Menne
Guest
Jackie Menne
9 years 8 months ago

I was working as Publishing Director for an upscale home furnishing catalog company. We had just finished our holiday book and launched the new website. We were celebrating one minute and shocked the next. Not one catalog ever made it in home due to the stoppage of mail from the anthrax scare. Lots of inventory, no orders. Closed the doors six months later.

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