business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Life is weird at the moment, and one of the most important things retailers can do is remember how shoppers are affected by the weird.  So it’s interesting and instructive to see how various companies are trying and possibly succeeding at making meaningful connections in trying times.

And go figure, it all comes down to email.  Not text messages, nor social media, and not even TikTok.  Just email.

It's been more than two decades since Nora Ephron made You've Got Mail, in which Meg Ryan's Kathleen says at one point, "I turn on my computer. I wait impatiently as it connects. I go online, and my breath catches in my chest until I hear three little words: 'You've got mail.'  I hear nothing. Not even a sound on the streets of New York, just the beat of my own heart. I have mail. From you."

Still works.  My household was recently on the receiving end of two email efforts and I think both worked in very different ways.

Let’s start with Panera Bread, the fast casual restaurant chain that my wife uses for bagels of late. Recently she received an interesting response to a small order - an e-mail with a side of connection.

“We appreciate you,” Panera told her, adding, “In uncertain times like these knowing we have your support keeps us going. On behalf of everyone at Panera - from our café teams to support staff - we thank you, and can’t want to serve you again.”

That’s a lot of sentiment for an order of bagels! And it’s well done.

Honestly, I can’t say that the Panera note is going to change our shopping habits at all as she got that email a week ago and we haven’t been back since. But it did catch her eye in a way that countless e-mail sales pitches don’t. It seemed genuine, personal and meaningful. (She also thought it was perfect for this column, so there’s that.)

I have no doubt that the unsigned email wasn’t done especially for my wife. Rather, I’d imagine that countless thousands of Panera customers received the same message in hopes that - as it did for my wife - it would break through the clutter. So essentially, a simple effort done at probably minimal cost created a point of consumer connection, which is something we all should want.

Plus, I don’t recall seeing a note like it from any of the other restaurants or stores we’ve frequented during the pandemic. So kudos to Panera for standing out, but here’s hoping they won’t be alone in this effort for long.

One day earlier I received another timely email from a company clearly looking to find some new traction in the midst of the current troubles. For reasons I cannot explain (since I haven’t bought anything from them in seven months and likely much more) I got an email from Nordstrom touting their new “working from home styles for women and men.”

This too struck me as timely and incredibly well aimed for the current moment. Certainly, most of us have no reason to dress up at all, beyond the small piece of our torsos that are displayed on Zoom calls.  Yet Nordstrom saw the opportunity for an entirely new line of apparel called “WFH Style."

I’m not totally sure I can predict success for the WFH line, but maybe there are people who feel better working in $200 Good Man Brand sneakers, $188 chino pants or an incredible array of shirts and sweaters that will never be seen by anyone. 

But then again, this may be a great opening to an entirely new branch of fashion marketing, especially for people who, unlike me, are sick of wearing the same few pairs of jeans day after day.

I think both Panera and Nordstrom demonstrate something far more important though. The emails, simple as they are, remind customers that theses operators are aware of the current situation and are communicating information that actually matters today. Being timely and relevant is something we should all aspire to achieve.

And to think, it only took a couple of emails. Not exactly an expensive way to make connections that matter.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.