Social media can be a powerful tool. Just look at what it does in the hands of U.S. President Donald Trump. Even more mobilizing is the effect it’s having on his daughter’s business.
In the past week, six major retailers have dropped the Ivanka Trump brand under increasing pressure from consumers who have taken to social media — Twitter in particular — to boycott their stores. Now, the Twittersphere has set its sights on The Hudson’s Bay Company, the largest Canadian retailer to carry the brand.
WATCH: White House has ‘counselled’ Kellyanne Conway following Ivanka Trump endorsement
The campaign, #baycott, has been gaining steam over the last two weeks, and consumers have vowed to boycott the store until it drops the Trump brand. They’re pointing to larger retailers like Nordstrom as a case of doing the right thing.
“I have been quite vocal about not shopping there until they stop carrying the brand,” says Amanda St. Jean, a Guelph, Ont., resident. “I wrote to the CEO in November and never received a response.”
St. Jean and countless other Twitter users believe that as “Canada’s iconic department store,” which is how The Bay positions itself, it has a responsibility to reflect our nation’s core values of inclusion and diversity.
“With the exception of indigenous peoples, we’re all immigrants,” she says.
In a media statement emailed to Global News, Brigitte Timmins, a spokesperson for The Bay wrote: “Across our banners, we aim to deliver a strong assortment of fashion. We respect our customers’ right to choose the brands that work for them. In turn, our customers’ choices inform our decisions on which merchandise we offer.”
For many of those customers who use Twitter, however, their decision is to #baycott. According to hashtag analytics company Keyhole, since Jan. 30, #baycott has garnered more than 1,300 posts, nearly 800 unique users and more than three million impressions.
To put it in perspective, #DeleteUber had 140,000 posts that led to 200,000 uninstalls of the app. At this rate, The Bay could be losing anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 customers, says Keyhole CEO Saif Ajani.
The question is: will it work?
Past boycotts have had a significant impact on major retailers and brands. In the 1990s, consumers boycotted Nike amid allegations that the sneaker giant used child labour in third world Asian countries. As a result, the company’s earnings dropped by 69 per cent.
“Although seemingly intangible, the brand value alone of a consumer-facing company can be worth billions of dollars,” Brendon Steele, a senior manager of stakeholder engagement at Future 500, said in an interview with The Guardian. “The brand is what connects with consumers. Done strategically, putting a brand at risk can encourage a conversation.”
In the case of Nike, it inspired a major overhaul within the company that included a commitment to corporate sustainability and supply chain practices, including having more hands-on involvement with overseas manufacturers to ensure they respect labour laws.
Perhaps more similar to the Ivanka Trump situation, John Lewis customers in the U.K. boycotted the retailer in 2014 for selling SodaStream products. The at-home soda maker company came under fire from Palestinian solidarity activists for running a facility in the occupied West Bank. John Lewis, which has dozens of stores across the country, dropped the brand.
“Naturally, this will happen,” says Bruce Sinclair, fashion program coordinator and professor at Humber College. “We’ve seen the list of retailers in America who have stopped carrying or promoting the Ivanka Trump brand. But that comes more from not buying the product than from a boycott of the store. I would hypothesize that the sales of the brand have been declining for the past couple of seasons.”
To that end, Sinclair believes that should The Bay drop Ivanka’s products, it will be because of sales and not consumer pressure.
“From a business standpoint, The Bay has a responsibility to its shareholders. If the brand is making money, then they’ll hang on to it,” he says. “If the customers who are complaining stop buying it and sales dip, they’ll pull it.”
He does think that eventually the brand will disappear from Canadian shelves.
“A large swath of consumers is turned off of the Trump name and doesn’t want to support it,” he says. “I think it’s probably under performing.”
Adding to the controversy is President Trump’s tweet yesterday where he accused Nordstrom of treating his daughter “unfairly.” It has raised eyebrows among ethics experts, with many calling his actions unethical. To further fan the flames, White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway said in an interview with Fox News, “go buy Ivanka’s stuff.”
As pointed out by the Associated Press, although the president isn’t subject to the same standards of ethical conduct as a federal employee, Conway is. And one of its mandates prohibits “endorsement of any product, service or enterprise.”
Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert and law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, pointed to the Nordstrom tweet as problematic and said that it could cause retailers to rethink their decision to drop the Ivanka Trump brand for fear of being publicly shamed by the president.
“The implicit threat was that he will use whatever authority he has to retaliate against Nordstrom, or anyone who crosses his interest,” she said to the AP.
It’s a tactic that even those not in the inner circle have employed since Trump won the election. Last month, an assistant to Marla Maples, the president’s second wife, reportedly told a hairstylist who refused to perform services on Maples and her daughter Tiffany free of charge: “You are messing with the president of the United States.”
In this case, however, it would seem that consumers are warning The Bay that they are messing with Canadians and their values.