- In a tweet this morning, President-elect Donald Trump thanked Linda Bean, heir to the founder of Maine-based company L.L. Bean, for her support and encouraged people to buy products from the company.
- L.L. Bean got into hot water earlier this week after it began pushing back against “Grab Your Wallet,” a consumer group boycotting retailers that support Trump. The group targeted the brand after it was made public that Bean had donated $60,000 to a political action committee that helped elect Trump, the Associated Press reported. Bean is still a member of the company’s 10-member board of directors.
- “We are deeply troubled by the portrayal of L.L. Bean as a supporter of any political agenda,” Shawn Gorman, L.L. Bean’s executive chairman, said in a statement posted to Facebook on Sunday. “L.L. Bean does not endorse political candidates, take positions on political matters or make political contributions. Simply put, we stay out of politics.”
Thank you to Linda Bean of L.L.Bean for your great support and courage. People will support you even more now. Buy L.L.Bean. @LBPerfectMaine— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2017
Growing consumer activism against the President-elect could be a very bad thing for some retailers' bottom lines. While almost no brands have publicly endorsed Trump, retailers who sell Trump products or retail executives who have made pro-Trump remarks are finding themselves on blacklists. A president endorsing a brand in this manner is virtually unprecedented, but it may magnify the issue for L.L. Bean, which probably wishes it never got sucked into this battle in the place.
Grab Your Wallet, a group mobilized on Twitter several months ago by Shannon Coulter, is currently boycotting about 40 retailers, including Amazon, Nordstrom, Wal-Mart and now L.L. Bean. Coulter told Maine Public Radio that if L.L. Bean wants off the list it needs to drop Linda Bean from its board. “As fans of L.L. Bean’s products, everybody is hoping that the company is really seriously evaluating whether or not Linda Bean’s presence and contributions to the company are worth the damage she continues to inflict on L.L. Bean’s brand and reputation,” Coulter told the radio station.
New Balance found itself in a similar situation just a few months ago. The athletic footwear retailer was lit up on social media by consumers after Matthew LeBretton, VP of public affairs, complained to The Wall Street Journal that the Obama administration turned a deaf ear to New Balance's opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement. “With President-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction,” LeBretton said. Some customers interpreted the comment as an endorsement of Trump and expressed their rage by posting videos on Twitter depicting them tossing their New Balance sneakers in the trash — or setting them ablaze.
New Balance further clarified its comments in a statement sent to NBC News. "As the only major company that still makes athletic shoes in the U.S., New Balance has a unique perspective on trade in that we want to make more shoes in the U.S., not less [sic]. New Balance publicly supported the trade positions of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump prior to election day that focused on American manufacturing job creation and we continue to support them today."
The purse-string protest is putting retailers in a difficult position, one in which they are bound to upset at least one part of their customer base. Macy’s, for one, decided in June that it would cease sales of Trump ties in response to Trump’s derogatory comments about Mexican immigrants. Trump fired back at Macy's immediately following the move, calling for a boycott of the department store chain.
Nordstrom, on the other hand, has stated that it will continue to sell daughter Ivanka Trump’s fashion line. "We've heard from customers, including some who are long-time loyal customers, threatening a boycott of Nordstrom if we continue to carry the line. Similarly, we've heard from customers who say they will boycott Nordstrom if we stop carrying the brand. This is a sharply divisive subject. No matter what we do, we are going to end up disappointing some of our customers."
Whether retailers go one way or the other on Trump may depend on the demographics of their consumer base, but one thing is becoming clear: Mass retailers are finding it increasingly difficult to market to all Americans in a divided America.