Shop­pers weigh calls for boy­cotts

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - MICHAEL RU­BINKAM AND ANNE D’IN­NO­CEN­ZIO

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.

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