Retail ensnared in nationwide protests

Sources: Nike, Target, Macy's, Lululemon, Amazon
Jun 01, 2020

“We are a community in pain. That pain is not unique to the Twin Cities — it extends across America,” wrote Target CEO Brian Cornell Friday in an open letter.

The letter arrived following the third night of protests in the retailer’s hometown of Minneapolis where George Floyd died in police custody and on the same day a former police officer was charged with murder.

“The murder of George Floyd has unleashed the pent-up pain of years, as have the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor,” Mr. Cornell continued. “We say their names and hold a too-long list of others in our hearts.”

A Target store across the street from the epicenter of many of the city’s protests was one of the first to be looted and damaged. By Sunday, Target was indicating that it was temporarily closing or shortening the hours of about 200 stores as protests and looting spread across the country.

Mr. Cornell pledged Target’s support of communities during the healing process. He concluded, “Since we opened our doors, Target has operated with love and opportunity for all. And in that spirit, we commit to contributing to a city and community that will turn the pain we’re all experiencing into better days for everyone.”

Theft and smashed windows have already cost millions in damage, but many retailers are likewise standing in solidarity with the protests., which scaled back deliveries in some cities to protect drivers, wrote on Twitter, “The inequitable and brutal treatment of black people in our country must stop. Together we stand in solidarity with the Black community — our employees, customers, and partners — in the fight against systematic racism and justice.”

Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, tweeted, “Minneapolis is grieving for a reason. To paraphrase Dr. King, the negative peace which is the absence of tension is no substitute for the positive peace which is the presence of justice. Justice is how we heal.”

Nike released a video that began with, “For once, Don’t Do It. Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America.”

Nordstrom executives Pete and Erik Nordstrom wrote in a letter to employees, “The unnecessary and unjust killing of anyone must not be accepted.”

Others, including Gap and Lululemon, joined Microsoft, Netflix, T-Mobile and JP Morgan in offering support for black communities.

In a posting on Macy’s Instagram account, Chairman & CEO Jeff Gennette concluded his statement of sympathy and support with the protesters by saying, “While we cannot always control what happens outside of our stores and facilities, we can shape the culture within. One of inclusion. One that welcomes and respects all. One that believes — and acts on — the principle that all of us are created equal.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What is your view on how retailers and brands have reacted to nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd? What should stores do in response to looting situations?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"I think what happened to cause this is reprehensible ... but I am sorry I do not understand why anyone would destroy or loot retail establishments in their neighborhood."
"From a humanistic perspective, it’s awful all the way around. A little bit of consolation is a good thing."
"My personal favorite was Adidas reposting Nike’s post on the topic, underscoring that “we” are indeed in this together..."

Join the Discussion!

36 Comments on "Retail ensnared in nationwide protests"

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Mark Ryski

The events unfolding are truly tragic, and the responses from the retailing community have been thoughtful and compassionate. As sensitive as retailers rightfully should be to the circumstances around the George Floyd’s apparent murder, they also need to manage their businesses. The looting and vandalism taking place have nothing to do with equal rights and the treatment of Blacks in America. I agree with the approach of many retailers who are closing stores in the areas that are hardest hit until civil order is restored.

Suresh Chaganti

Agreed, Mark.

As we should expect, anti-social elements have entered to take advantage of the opportunity. There are some of course who believe in using violence to make a point. Then there are commentators who equivocate about whether to call these protests or riots.

The thing is, there are both peaceful protests and violent riots. Not acknowledging the riot part, or justifying it, will not help the conversation. It muddles things, create false equivalencies and stalls progress.

Zel Bianco

The mayor of Atlanta said it best when she spoke. These actions by looters and rioters who burn police cars and loot stores are not helping the situation. She urged those that are understandably frustrated and fed up to go out and vote and put leaders in charge that effect real change. Change can only happen with legislation that is long overdue. Hurting retailers in neighborhoods where the local Target is the only place for customers to get their medication and other necessities helps no one.

Bob Phibbs

As a white guy who believes in a social contract, it may be hard to acknowledge that many blacks have felt the social contract has been torn up daily for generations, but for me that is the truth.

Ryan Mathews

Nailed it Bob. After 400 years of social contracts not worth the bad paper they are written on, trust is understandably hard to establish.

Art Suriano
The whole situation is unfortunate. George Floyd was horribly murdered — and I don’t even say killed — I say murdered because the officer, Derek Chauvin, had absolutely no justification for his actions other than his own stupid hatred toward a black person. That said, legal action was pursued almost immediately; the cop has been indicted, and this time it is reasonably sure will be going to jail. What I don’t understand is the reason to riot. I didn’t say protest; I said riot. The cities that people live in, work in, and socialize in are being destroyed. If Mr. Chauvin was not indicted and if the city took the position that he was doing his job, then I would understand emotions running wild, but that is not what happened. What can retailers do? What can any of us do? I hope that things calm down soon and return to normal as we are still waiting for our lives to recover from the pandemic. It just seems that 2020 has been a year like no… Read more »
Richard Hernandez
Richard Hernandez
Director, Main Street Markets
2 years 2 months ago

I think what happened to cause this is reprehensible and people have the right the protest to express their concerns in public, but I am sorry I do not understand why anyone would destroy or loot retail establishments in their neighborhood or in someone else’s neighborhood. Some people in those areas depend on those businesses to buy groceries for their family or get prescriptions needed for them. I saw some store owners try to save their stores over the weekend but to no avail. Closing retail establishments is the only way to avoid vandalism until order is restored.

Cathy Hotka

This country is reeling from a series of body blows that affect all of us. Mr. Cornell and the rest understand that everyone, not just the black community, is suffering right now, and those comforting words are much appreciated.

Suresh Chaganti

Retail leaders and brands have come across as thoughtful, compassionate and have expressed solidarity. I think the messaging has been spot on. It is refreshing to see influential brands speaking up. I hope smaller retailers that were impacted by thefts and vandalism can pursue insurance claims without much struggle.

Dick Seesel

These are two very difficult and different questions. I believe most Americans sympathize with the protests, and the killing of George Floyd seems to have resonated across the country in unprecedented ways. (Thanks in part to the smartphone.) The same people who support the right to protest peacefully are probably appalled at the accompanying violence and destruction as it threatens to swamp the real issues.

If you’re a retailer or other national brand, it’s important to speak up instead of staying silent. But it’s tough for Target and other retailers large and small to watch the wanton destruction of their property. They need to protect their assets and their associates’ safety, without compromising their messaging of support. It’s a tricky balancing act without any easy answers.

Bob Phibbs

I was naive when I saw all the boarded up retailers in downtown areas over the past several months. It never occurred to me they could have been preparing “just in case” something happened. I applaud all the CEOs who are filling the void of leadership at the top. My dad was a civil rights leader in the ’60s, they knew what was wrong then but answers continue to prove more than a heartfelt letter or video. What is the right action? What is the dialogue that has to happen and with whom? That said, I fear recent events will again recede and we’ll be back here again — soon.

Paula Rosenblum

Well, there was a time when only a very few retailers and brands embraced the LGBT community. Then with leaders like American Express, American Airlines and Subaru, out in the front lines companies started realizing that they were leaving real money on the table.

So from a purely capitalist perspective, it’s a good idea to be sympathetic to equal rights for all. That doesn’t mean any of us should support looters, whoever they might be (and that’s its own rather big question).

From a humanistic perspective, it’s awful all the way around. A little bit of consolation is a good thing.

Neil Saunders

I have been pleased to see retailers speak out against the injustices against black people and, more specifically, the murder of George Floyd. Corporations adding their voices is no bad thing and some, such as Glossy, have matched words with donations to relevant causes, including funding to help small black-owned businesses grow and develop.

The destruction and looting of retailers are to be condemned outright. In the vast majority of cases, I don’t believe the perpetrators are seeking justice – they are using the situation as cover for misguided actions which is appalling.

Mark Price
Mark Price
Chief Data Officer, CaringBridge
2 years 2 months ago

What an amazing opportunity for true leadership to emerge. However, leadership is not making flowery speeches about commitment to racial justice — it is the methodical, consistent application of values and principles to a prevailing problem. Commitment to addressing racial inequalities will require sustained planning and actions. That type of behavior is how we will know that a retailer is committed.

Typical actions can include addressing racial inequality in promotion to store manager, for example. Addressing the firing of part-time workers when their children are sick or their public transportation breaks down. Retail plays a big role in sustaining gaps in income and racial inequality through policies like that. There is plenty of work to be done. I believe we can do it!

Lee Peterson

Solidarity behind this movement is the only way forward. It’s obviously long overdue. Fighting fire with fire does NOT work, and after multiple abhorrent incidents like that of last week, I don’t see how you can take any other stance.

Jeff Sward

I am very grateful for the enlightened and heartfelt response from so many business leaders, and their whole companies. The positions they are taking stand in stark contrast to the utter lack of response and leadership from so many elected officials. There are no “both sides” arguments to be made here. It feels like the business community is making more informed and pragmatic decisions about the way forward than the political community. Office holders might want to takes notes. Voters certainly are.

Liz Crawford

I applaud Mr. Cornell for his support of the protesters, even as some of Target’s own stores were damaged. This is wisdom and leadership.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

In the words of my mother, “There’s always good that comes from bad.” George Floyd’s death and that of other black men and women at the hands of a minority of misguided policemen is tragic. The rioting and looting is also bad. However if we can separate the looters bent on criminal activity from those countless black persons who feel like invisible people, then we can appreciate their depth of despair. Brian Cornell and other retail leaders have demonstrated their sincere empathy and commitment to do their part to address this inequality. As other BrainTrust members have stated, we need our elected officials to do the same to ensure that long term good comes from this bad situation.

Gene Detroyer

George Floyd is far from the first victim of police brutality (murder) against Blacks. But what seems to be different now versus the last 30 years, is the outpouring of support for the demonstrators by companies that would have never said a word in the past. In addition to those noted in the article, add Citigroup, Shake Shack, Adidas, Google, Uber, Unilever, Starbucks, Disney, Dow, and the Business Roundtable.

They seem to recognize the reality of the situation and despite Targets, Starbucks and Adidas stores being looted, that doesn’t change the underlying problem that must be solved.

Mohamed Amer, PhD

If we were visited by an alien being in 1968 and again in 2020, they’d see great improvements in technology and a widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots. Moreover, they’d see a great narrowing of the haves and increasing economic and social inequities. Retailers are the interface between business models of an economic system and the people – all the people and communities. Digital retailing has removed the store – the community’s meeting place – from the social fabric that holds and reflects our civic norms and further increased the sense of individualism and bunker mentality.

The current messages from retailers are a first step in the national healing process. However, words without follow-through deeds will cause more harm than not. The retail industry holds a unique and binding place in society and must exercise power and leverage to effect genuine changes that realize genuine social equality and curb extremist policies.

Doug Garnett

Shall I observe that Amazon has been remarkably quiet? And one thing we should learn from this is that retail stores are part of community and play a major role in American culture.

It does not make logical sense that they would be targeted in these riots. But note that it’s to stores that people turn in their anger.

Rory Sutherland, in his book Alchemy, talks about the importance of those consumer actions which are non-sense (as opposed nonsense) and which are psycho-logical (as opposed to psychological) to understand people.

Seeing today’s chaos through this lens, what’s going on reflects the intimacy and importance of stores in their communities. It is important that stores do a better job of reflecting their importance to community and neighborhood than happens in this day when “efficiency” is valued over “effectiveness.”

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Support of anti-racist sentiments, actions, and protests by retailers is commendable. The spread of protests across the country, and now the world, is impressive. The riots and looting are a very sad and dangerous turn of events. Violence and criminal activity dilutes the message of the protestors against violence. If there were only peaceful protests, retailers would not have to close. Closing stores in response to violence and vandalism is reasonable while it does hurt communities that have few shopping alternatives. Violence on both sides needs to end. It is very sad to see a situation in which social media and non-violent protests that were able to facilitate the arrest and charges against the police officer turned into a conversation and decisions about how to quell violence across cities.