NRF Member Spotlight: Designer Brands

The company strengthens its commitment to diversity and inclusion through roundtable, cultural assessments and philanthropic efforts

This year, retailers have actively been working to implement new programs and create an inclusive and diverse experience for consumers and employees. Brands have added sections on their websites to highlight Black-owned or minority businesses, offered new clothing sizes and training for associates, and developed philanthropic partnerships.

We connected with Karime Benaissa, chief digital officer of DSW, part of the Designer Brands portfolio, to discuss the meaningful changes the NRF member company has implemented to uphold the promise it made when signing the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion Pledge, along with how the vaccines have implemented consumer trends and the importance of data.

Diversity and inclusion

Learn more about diversity and inclusion initiatives in the retail industry.

What are some unique or innovative digital strategies Designer Brands has used to focus on consumers’ expectations or target new consumers?

A key area of focus in our business is our customer — deepening our understanding of who they are and their expectations, using data to create unique and innovative experiences to deliver on these expectations. Innovation and change are constant in retail, even more so after COVID-19. As such, we are accelerating our push in analytics and data sciences to refine the granularity through which we look at our customers and to move toward frameworks that are longer term and more predictive in nature.

As we deepen our understanding of our customers and their lives, we are focused on making their experience with us more seamless and also differentiated. We are exploring different setups and unique programs that will put a smile on their face and will make them think of DSW as the place to go to for anything shoe-related, from inspiration about the latest trends to purchasing the hottest products!

As the vaccine rollout continues, what product categories are shifting? Are any unexpected trends emerging post-pandemic?

While the lockdowns of 2020 saw consumer preference for “comfy/cozy” styles, as people ventured out this spring and summer and got back to social activities, we have continued to see some “green shoots” in dress shoes like sandals. And of course, it’s all about athletic — we’ve continued to see strong growth in athletic over the last quarter as people enjoyed their favorite outdoor activities with nicer weather. Our kids’ business has been strong too, as children headed back to school and parents looked for appropriate footwear. We expected to see the expression of some pent-up demand after last year’s curtailed school year.

In January, Designer Brands CEO Roger Rawlins signed the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion Pledge, the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace. As part of this pledge, how has your company continued to support diversity and inclusion?

We started by reaffirming our commitment to our associates and other stakeholders. Since we signed the pledge, we’ve held regular associate DEI roundtables, conducted a cultural assessment and extended DEI councils to our field and store associates for greater inclusion. We also ensured our Board’s alignment on key DEI metrics to hold ourselves accountable in talent, culture and leadership.

Committees and councils

Learn more about NRF committees and councils and how you can join.

We’ve also strengthened our commitment to diversity and inclusion in our marketing as we lean into “moments that matter,” like Juneteenth, Pride and Hispanic Heritage Month. We partnered with our internal business resource groups to ensure appropriate acknowledgement of these moments, often featuring associates in social posts and other marketing. We connected our philanthropic efforts to these commitments too, partnering with United Way Worldwide’s Equity Advancement Fund so customers could give through our DSW register roundup program. Progress requires constant work, and we’re committed and excited to continue our efforts.

What is your favorite NRF resource?

Across Designer Brands, you’ll hear colleagues cite participation in various NRF member councils and committees. These groups offer a chance for us to connect with other experts in the retail space on a variety of topics, from marketing to human resources to supply chain. Since we’ve been in uncharted territory during the pandemic, these connections and conversations have lent immeasurable value to us as retailers as we strive to take care of our associates, meet our customers’ changing needs and continue our growth.

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