Shoppers weigh calls for boycotts
ALLENTOWN, PA. — Stormy Patterson makes a distinction between opinion and action as she surveys each new call to boycott Company A or support Brand B.
It’s “silly” to penalize Under Armour over its CEO’s praise of President Donald Trump, she says. Far more important is how a company behaves toward its customers or employees.
“Hobby Lobby, I won’t patronize them. I won’t touch them,” said Patterson, who opposes the chain’s refusal to pay for some kinds of birth control for staff.
Long before Trump slammed Nordstrom for dropping his daughter’s clothing and accessories line, politically active consumers have used their purchasing power strategically.
They could punish brands with which they disagreed, and reward those whose views aligned with theirs.
In the polarized Trump era, buying a drink or shoes has never seemed so political. Social media makes it easier than ever for activists and consumers to target or defend stores and brands that take a stand or those they see as proxies for a politician.
As a result, “every shopping bag is a potential political statement,” said Allen Adamson, founder of Brand Simple, a consulting firm. “It is like carrying a sign in a rally.”
Patterson said her political views have “absolutely” influenced buying decisions. “I think everybody has their different extremes, or what they feel is worth taking a stand for,” said Patterson, 34, as she shopped with her family at an Allentown mall.
Weaponized buying can be a minefield for retailers and brands, many already struggling as malls fall out of favour and people buy more online. Some companies deliberately enter the political fray, betting customers will support their points of view. Others tread carefully.
Most consumers would prefer brands to not be political, said Wendy Liebmann, CEO of marketing consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail. She believes companies should focus on larger messages rather than weigh in on specific political issues.
Courtney Taylor, 21, of Center Valley, Pennsylvania, said she believes shopping and politics should remain separate.
But she has her limits. Taylor, who voted for Trump because she opposes abortion, said she’d stop shopping at her favourite store if it were to start donating to an abortion-rights group.
Companies “need to know if they’re going to release a political statement, people are going to react,” she said.