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Caveat emptor: retailers in awkward spot as Trump boycott builds momentum

Trump boycott puts retailers in awkward spot

TORONTO — Caroline Starr stopped shopping at Hudson’s Bay stores several months ago when she first heard of an online campaign to boycott companies that support then-Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump and his family’s brand.

But when the president announced his latest executive order last week — a 90-day ban preventing citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. — she started to encourage others to join her “Baycotting” via Facebook.

“This doesn’t reflect … the Canada I feel a part of,” she says, adding that she believes the retailer owes consumers an explanation after the travel ban.

“Why are we continuing to support this?”

More shoppers, including those in Canada, are joining a campaign to push back against Trump’s divisive rhetoric and policies with their wallets, taking aim at a growing hit list of companies that support the first family’s business ventures.

Hudson’s Bay Co. (TSX:HBC) operates several retailers on the Grab Your Wallet list, including Hudson’s Bay and Saks Off 5th, which all sell some of the Trump family members’ products.

HBC spokeswoman Tiffany Bourre did not say whether the boycott has affected sales, but said the company respects customers’ rights to choose the brands that work for them and those choices inform its decisions.

The campaign encourages people to boycott dozens of retailers selling Donald or Ivanka Trump’s products, and dozens more that are owned by the family or connected to them through fundraising support or other means.

Doug Stephens, founder of Retail Prophet, a Toronto-based retail advisory, said the campaign forces retailers into a position where they must become political.

“They have to respond,” he says. “One way or the other.”

But the campaign has also given rise to an impassioned response from another camp: Trump supporters who are waging a backlash, promising to spend more money on Trump products and boycott any retailers that stop selling them.

“As is the case with most things Trump, it’s a very polarizing issue,” Stephens says.

Kirsten Hurd says she was once a loyal Hudson’s Bay shopper, but started avoiding the stores a few months ago.

“I just don’t think that HBC should be profiting off of that family,” she says. “I don’t think that that family stands for anything that … most Canadians agree with.”

Starr and Hurd both want the company to pull the products from store shelves and issue an explanation.

To date, the Grab Your Wallet campaign has removed seven companies from its list with plans to remove one more this month. According to the campaign website, the Honest Company, a U.S. consumer goods company, committed to no longer sponsor future seasons of “The Apprentice.”

While many of the companies have remained mum on the matter, it’s unlikely the consumer action will cease any time soon, Stephens says.

“I can certainly foresee a protest like this continuing on as long as people are feeling aggravated by the situation,” he says, adding that Trump has upset a lot of people in just his first two weeks in the White House.

“For corporate America right now, it’s a tricky time.”

 

Follow @AleksSagan on Twitter.

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press

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