Published December 30, 2020.
For a perfect lesson on how not to handle a catastrophe, look at Red Wing.
On Halloween, Red Wing suffered a cyberattack. Yes, Halloween. For two whole months that encompassed Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the entire holiday period, nobody has been able to buy any shoes online from Red Wing — that includes Red Wing Heritage, their Red Wing Work line, and their sister brand Irish Setter.
If you didn’t know, why would you? The only places reporting on the kneecapping of the country’s best known boot company are local Minnesota outlets, the Star Tribune and the Grand Forks Herald. In a statement to the Star Tribune, a Red Wing spokesperson said,
Upon discovering the incident, our response team took immediate action to understand and contain the threat, including taking systems offline to limit potential damage. At this time, we have been able to restore service to some systems and services, and are continuing to work on restoring the remaining systems.
That was over a month and a half ago.
Adding to the confusion surrounding the event, Red Wing has otherwise been completely silent, with their website only stating,
Due to a system outage, we are not currently accepting orders through our website.
That’s it — no mention of what happened, or if they can be expected to come back online at all.
Untold thousands have visited the site over the months, been unable to make a purchase, and were only able to leave, frustrated and empty handed. Those who have decided to instead try their luck at one of their 500-plus retail stores may have been successful, but the stores have been badly affected too: clerks have been writing paper receipts, “processing credit cards by hand and getting a phone OK on the amount,” showing the cybersecurity breach has apparently upset every level of the company’s retail operations.
On Reddit, u/farleymcg pasted this response from Red Wing’s “Shelly” at Consumer Relations after he tried to find out what was happening with his boot resole. (This was sent at the start of December, emphasis ours.)
Thank you for reaching out to us at Red Wing Shoes. We apologize for the delay in our response but are currently experiencing a technology system outage. This incident is complex, and our investigation is ongoing. We are working as quickly as we can to resolve this issue and appreciate your patience and understanding in the meantime. Your boots have been completed and should be shipping out within the next 3-5 business days. We truly apologize for the inconvenience.
[Related: 5 Things You Don’t Know About Red Wing]
The lack of communication has led speculation to run rife in the community. Is recovery even possible? Will the company fold? Probably and probably not, but Red Wing’s deafening silence is doing nothing to restore the trust that has been lost in the consumer base.
It’s been a devastating chapter in the company’s history. Red Wing is privately held, so they’re not obligated to release any information to shareholders, but the incident has all the hallmarks of a ransomware attack, a kind of cyberattack that is becoming increasingly common. This year, we’ve seen several high profile ransomware cases that have affected, among others, the Georgia state government and Garmin, an activity tracker company that paid hackers $10 million in “ransom” to get their company back online in August.
2020 was already a difficult year for the American economy, and it remains to be seen when and if Red Wing can bounce back from losing their online sales for such a long period of time. There are rumors they’ll be back online this January — but customers shouldn’t have to make do with rumors.
Red Wing needs a new PR team.