Watermelon Grudge and Loyalty during COVID

Watermelon Grudge & Loyalty LessonsMy mom, Lois, was a 1950s housewife with three pre-school kids living in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Lois, a frugal shopper, spotted an ad in the local paper for 50¢ watermelons. Shazam, she was on a mission! When my dad got home for lunch, she rushed out with their only car to take advantage of this bargain.

A display of watermelons with a sign, “Watermelon $1.50,” greeted her at the front of the store. Bewildered, she showed her ad to a clerk. He replied, “I’m sorry, but we ran out of the 50¢ watermelons. Our new shipment is priced at $1.50.” The store manager told her the same thing. She stormed out of the store and never shopped there again.

Twenty-some years later, she took my little sister to a ski race in Vermont. At the race, she met a Marketing VP from this store, which had become a national chain. Chatting with him, she said, “I used to shop at your store and really liked it. I’m disappointed that you no longer have a store in La Crosse.” He looked at her with surprise, “We have two stores in La Crosse.” And he described the locations.

In a flash of memory, she recalled the watermelon story and shared it. He laughed and picked up their tab, “I think I should write off this trip! You just provided me with very meaningful market research. Not only did you stop shopping over a watermelon, you also forgot our store existed. While I don’t have a watermelon to give you, at least let me buy you a drink!” Charmed by his attention, she opened her mind to shopping there again. She still enjoys telling how her victim story eventually led to satisfaction.

Loyalty Lessons During COVID-19

This story, originally posted in October 2013, sheds light on the value of customer loyalty and illustrates how to make the customer the hero of a brand story. The lessons from this story have broader applications during the coronavirus era. Competing priorities and corporate values are put to the test. How companies take care of their customers during this crisis, but also their employees, suppliers, and communities, tells us if they deserve our loyalty.

Forbes reports 50 ways companies are giving back during the coronavirus pandemic. These good deeds are likely to pay dividends in customer loyalty and the bottom line down the road. Another Forbes article profiles three companies showing exemplary leadership during the pandemic: Amazon, CVS, and Target.


As the retail VP learned from Lois, lost loyalty is hard to earn back. Businesses that take care of their customers during the pandemic, as well as those that don’t, will be remembered. The Sterling-Rice Group COVID-19 Attitude and Behavior Tracker reveals that consumers are gravitating to brands that demonstrate trust, safety, and value. Safety practices in retail settings is a visible demonstration of a company’s values. Companies earn greater trust when they not only cover these basics, but go beyond. New solutions that help customers cope and adapt shows leadership. Generous payment and cancellation policies demonstrates empathy and concern.


The LA Times reports that some employers are doing the right thing in the coronavirus crisis, while some aren’t. The Forbes articles showcase examples of companies increasing regular hourly wages and overtime pay, as well as bonuses and sick pay, for frontline workers. Again, Target stands out. High-risk employees receive regular pay to stay home for 30 days. Sadly, many other companies force employees to work in unsafe working conditions. Meat packing plants, produce fields, service industries, and even some offices failed to protect their workers. I learned from an acquaintance that her company forced office workers who were successfully teleworking to return to the office because the “CEO doesn’t trust employees to be productive at home.” Meanwhile, General Mills and the Washington Post announced plans to continue teleworking arrangements until September.


I was already a loyal Target customer because of the customer service my daughter and I received when we were forced to weather a tornado in the store many years ago. Target, like many other companies, gave to local communities, national nonprofits, and global response efforts to address the economic and health impacts of COVID-19. Target also joined the State of Minnesota’s effort to ramp up testing capacity by supplying thermometers to Minnesota businesses at wholesale cost to help employees get back to work safely. Good corporate citizens earn consumer trust and loyalty.

Higher Purpose

A recent Industry Week article, Why Companies Doing the Right Thing Matters More Than Ever, captures what it means to lead during a global crisis. “These challenging times are a stress test for all companies. And a litmus test for your values. It’s not just about whether your company survives. It’s about how you lead people through these dark times. [The pandemic presents] a defining opportunity to practice courageous leadership. This is a time for companies to show that they don’t just sell something or make something—they stand for something. That they care deeply about helping workers, customers, and communities.” Values truly matter.

People forget what you say. They forget what you do.
But they always remember how you made them feel.
—Maya Angelou


  1. Monica J McCorkle on May 27, 2020 at 1:17 pm

    This is so true. Makes me proud to be working for the corporation that I work for. Thanks so much Jean!

  2. DOUGLAS BENSON on May 20, 2020 at 2:48 pm

    Love that story Jean!

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