Retail ensnared in nationwide protests

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

“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.

Amazon.com, 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.
Braintrust
"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..."

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36 Comments on "Retail ensnared in nationwide protests"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust
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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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.
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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.
BrainTrust

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.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

What an enormous tragedy. But it is not new, and the proverbial camel’s back has broken yet again. The community leadership of retailers like Target’s Brian Cornell serve to set the right tone – but it is not enough. There is injustice that needs to be righted, restitutions to be made, and changes to take place. It will require all leaders to revisit diversity and inclusion and make it part of a new path to reconstruction.
Widespread looting doesn’t provide retail with many options. Closing stores and making it more difficult to loot without putting people in harm’s way is the only option. Anarchy doesn’t have a defined counter action plan – except maybe letting it fizzle out and then introducing strong leadership.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
I think most retailers and brands — while spouting all the predictable progressive platitudes about inclusion, commitment to community and employees, and regrets for the, “tragic incident,” which has launched the latest in a series of waves of protest by Black Americans over — among other things — police racial violence, are as superficial as they are ineffective. This is not all the result of the murder, yes, murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department — horrific as it was. It’s about the 428 years of murder, rape, theft, poverty, false arrest, denial of educational opportunities, segregation, voter suppression, terror, discrimination, exploitation, etc. that have happened since Sir John Hawkins, Captain of the Jesus of Lubeck (better known as the Good Ship Jesus) brought the first African slaves to the New World in 1592. “We” are not going to be “stronger” for George Floyd’s murder, because the majority of Americans don’t have to worry about their sons or daughters being pulled over and murdered by the police for the crime of breathing while… Read more »
Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Great points Ryan. As I hear friends say “looting isn’t the way,” I remind them our ancestors didn’t come here chained in the bottom of a boat as property. As you rightly note racism has been here from the start and codified along the way. If any of you have not watched Trevor Noah’s connecting of the dots which unpacks all the stories into dominoes. I encourage you to watch — especially if you are white.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Moving words Ryan and nicely put. This is a societal issue at its heart. The problem is that nothing changes. This cycle will repeat itself, even with the extremes of wanton destruction. The action steps taken in the past have been polished so much that they have little actual impact or effect.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

There are two factions embedded deep within our culture and country, those who seek equality for all races, and then those who lie in wait to exploit the deep depths of racial inequality in our country triggered by now a familiar event, the outrageous murder of a black man by a police officer filmed in real-time. While it is nice that brands and retailers have made strong statements supporting racial equality at this moment in time, it raises the question, why now? Why not earlier?

Phil Rubin
BrainTrust
1 month 8 days ago

In good times and in bad, leaders lead. As consumer trust in government wanes relative to business, and while both are relatively low, it’s noteworthy that so many brands have stepped up. It’s also noteworthy to see which ones have failed to do so.

Research shows that consumers expect brands to not only focus on customers but also on employees and communities. This is not a new thing and, while many point with cynicism to the Business Roundtable’s restating of purpose that businesses should look beyond just maximizing shareholder value, we are seeing that this principle is going to happen regardless.

My personal favorite was Adidas reposting Nike’s post on the topic, underscoring that “we” are indeed in this together and need to be collectively rather than individually responsible.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

As if the COVID-19 hasn’t hit so many retailers, large and small, so hard, now this rioting that serves no positive purpose is threatening retailers again. This is nuts. In those areas that are threatened with violence, those retailers should shut down and increase physical security measures. Let’s get past this violence quickly and deal with the issues with sane discussion and truly peaceful protests.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

I live in Minneapolis and the events of the last week are tragic and disturbing. There has been palpable tension between the police department and the black community for years. Mr. Floyd’s death at the hands of the police led to civil protests across all races, culture and creed. The looting and arson that followed hurt small business owners and retailers the hardest. Target and other major retailers will survive- many of the small independent business owners, already clinging on from COVID-19, will not. We are close to a family who immigrated from Morocco and started a small restaurant less than two years ago. Their building was burned to the ground by a few who simply don’t care. Target will survive and many global brands like Nike, Apple, and Microsoft will spin their PR to their advantage but let’s not forget those small independent, often minority-owned, business owners that are crushed and forgotten. Let’s not forget George Floyd.

Scott Norris
Guest
I’m also a Twin Citian, and live at the end of the block where Philando Castile was murdered by an officer a couple years ago. The sirens and smoke in our neighborhood last week brought all those emotions right back, as well as our memories of how kind and thoughtful and peaceful those who were grieving and protesting were as they parked in front of our house and walked through the neighborhood that night and the next days. Our friends who own United Noodles in south Minneapolis shared photos of their smashed vestibule and ransacked registers. They and we are convinced the local community is not instigating this destruction. Bands of camo-clad, masked and armed white men driving into our city without license plates and smashing storefronts is a symptom but not the disease. Institutionalized racism – whether through police brutality and refusal to reform, gerrymandering and redlining to deny minority representation and economic security, and refusal to invest in education and infrastructure for our urban communities – is the virus. It keeps our society… Read more »
David Slavick
Guest
Words vs. actions. Actions speak much louder than words. Spend less time commenting and more time protecting your people and your assets. As for the media, once again if it burns it leads, if it bleeds it leads. I am honestly disgusted with the media that spends more time covering destruction and not enough time on the root causes of our hideous past and equally disturbing present. Let’s support the leaders who are in the street every day and have been for years shouting for change. In Chicago it took the Laquan McDonald execution to force “some” change in our CPD practices and policies. All of this is local. Not national and certainly not Federal. We pray for peace. Unfortunately as Detroit well knows, there are parts of that city burned to the ground in the ’60s and ’70s that have never recovered. G-d bless our leaders of commerce. Their charitable contributions to communities of color is essential and I trust it will continue.
Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust

These retailers have power, both individually and together. They can wield that power to influence real action AND create a precedence for others to follow. I’m thrilled to see our BrainTrust united in this sentiment.

Andrew Blatherwick
BrainTrust

As someone looking from the outside America it is wonderful to read the comments of retail leaders. The support for a community that is feeling the pain of many years of suppression is heartwarming. The looting and the protesting are two different things and should not be treated as one group of people. Those protesting are showing their anger at yet another murder on a Black person by a white policeman. Those looting are carrying our criminal acts under the guise of the protest. How do retailers protect their staff and their property during these times? As almost all retail executives have stated they are in sympathy with the Black community and feel their pain, but they are not the target of the protesters.

The best thing retailers can do is work with all stakeholders to solve this problem and put right the wrongs that have been committed. That is not a political statement, it is a human one — man needs to stand up for man and ensure that this does not happen again.

George Anderson
Staff
The National Retail Federation issued the following statement from CEO Matthew Shay in response to the death of George Floyd and attacks on retail businesses. “It is with deep dismay and shared outrage that our communities express their anger and frustration through peaceful protests over the unjustifiable death of George Floyd last week in Minneapolis. Yet racial injustice continues. There is a real problem and divide in this country that we share the responsibility to address. It requires leadership in the municipal, state and federal levels of government, in our schools, our places of worship, our businesses and our homes, so we can work together — honestly, transparently and inclusively — to find solutions. Defacing, looting and plundering businesses, whether viewed as a direct outgrowth of fury or an opportunistic act of vandalism and theft, impedes progress and healing. Of primary concern to our retailers is the safety of their teams, the communities they serve and the emotional and physical well-being of their African American colleagues and customers. Retailers are committed to the values of… Read more »
Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

What is happening is beyond sad on many levels. Retailers and brands who share authentic messages can help bring issues forward and encourage society to take action. Nike and Adidas have been brave and outspoken — hopefully their large and diverse customer base will embrace the message.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"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..."

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