Should retailers get their workers and customers out to vote?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/LPETTET
Sep 02, 2020
Tom Ryan

Retailers have at least three paths to join in on the upcoming elections: giving their employees time off to vote, encouraging customers to go to the polls and selling election merchandise.

More than 700 companies, including Walmart, Macy’s, Starbucks and Nike, have joined the nonpartisan coalition Time to Vote and committed to making it easier for their employees to vote.

Walmart is giving U.S. workers up to three hours paid time off to vote. J. Crew is closing its stores and corporate offices on Election Day.

Some have called out the importance of voting in the wake of the racial injustice protests and other challenges facing the country.

“Who you vote for is a very personal decision that you make as a citizen,” said Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson in a letter to employees. “It is one way for you to be heard. It is how democracy works. Yet we know that barriers exist, notably in Black and Brown communities throughout the nation, that lend to systemic racism and require greater voter access and protections.”

Starbucks’ has also added features in its app to help customers learn how to register to vote, and ”Rock The Vote” and other consumer campaigns, as usual, are ramping up their campaigns.

On Monday, Old Navy said it will pay store employees who serve as poll workers to help offset a national poll worker shortage. The chain is inviting eligible consumers who want to be poll workers to participate, as well.

“Every voice in this country matters and deserves to be heard at the polls, and if we at Old Navy can be even a small part of making that process more accessible to the communities we call home, we are on board,” said Nancy Green, head of Old Navy, in a statement.

On selling floors, t-shirts and facemasks embossed with the single word “Vote” can be found at mainstream stores, but citizens in search of items endorsing their side (or ridiculing the other) largely have to head to third-party sellers on Amazon, Walmart, Etsy and other marketplaces. In 2016, Urban Outfitters sold a wide range of merchandise bashing Donald Trump that some saw as polarizing. This year, the chain has so far not sold merchandise around either candidate.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What advice would you give retailers and brands for taking advantage of marketing or merchandising opportunities around the upcoming presidential election? What are some safer versus riskier steps?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Retail companies should absolutely use their reputations and visibility to urge every citizen to make their voice heard."
"Giving time off is nice, but it should not turn into shaming of those businesses that cannot afford or do not want to do that."
"I am all for the idea that national elections should be national holidays. It’s the most serious holiday on the calendar."

Join the Discussion!

20 Comments on "Should retailers get their workers and customers out to vote?"


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Art Suriano
Guest

To me, there is nothing more infuriating than when someone says, “I didn’t vote. Oh, my vote doesn’t count.” We are a democracy, which means we choose who we want to represent us in our government. Everyone should take voting seriously because it is a privilege to vote, and some countries do not grant that privilege to their citizens. That said, I commend every retailer supporting the “Time to Vote” program. For many people who work odd hours, voting sometimes is difficult, especially in retail; you find yourself with a last-minute shift that conflicts with your plans to go vote. If every business gave employees one hour one day per year to vote, we would be doing the country an excellent service.

As for health risks — if we can go to the supermarket, Walmart, and many other places wearing a mask, we can vote safely.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

I am with Art Suriano. Maybe, like me, he was not born in the U.S. It is – in my opinion – a civic responsibility, not just a privilege, to vote. In a civically-minded society, as I like to believe we are, retailers should encourage time off for their employees to exercise that responsibility, and make it easy for them to do so. Political merchandising is not advisable.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Very simple: yes, they should encourage staff to vote. Most retailers should avoid taking party political stances, but they should be champions of democracy. That may mean giving staff time off to vote, closing on voting day, or paying staff to be poll workers. The solution for each retailer will be different, but all retailers should get involved.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

Giving time off is nice, but it should not turn into shaming of those businesses that cannot afford or do not want to do that.

More important is education about the importance of voting and providing guidance on voter registration. Mail-in voting has always been there, and it is even more relevant this year. So time off isn’t really required, although it is nice to have.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

I’m no spring chicken, and I don’t remember a more consequential election than this one. The choices are stark. Retail companies should absolutely use their reputations and visibility to urge every citizen to make their voice heard. And kudos to Old Navy.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

Voting in this election has become a central talking point on both sides. I applaud retailers that are allowing time for associates to go vote or, like Old Navy, supporting workers that go work at the polls. Voting is everyone’s right to make change – not voting wastes that right. As long as masks are worn, social distancing is adhered to, and voting booths are disinfected, there is no reason not to vote.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

It’s your country and it’s your right and privilege.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader
2 months 27 days ago

Every voice should be heard and counted at election time. Retailers have developed strong voices on many social issues in recent years and this should be no different. J. Crew and Old Navy have the right idea on how to support everyone’s ability to vote. If retailers can find it within themselves to stay closed on Thanksgiving Day to allow families to be together, why can’t they see their way to closing on Election Day? Old Navy’s idea to pay employees who volunteer as poll workers is a great way to support both their employees and the vote. Well done!

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

As I consider the holidays that companies give people paid time off, there is not one that is more important than Election Day.

Perry Kramer
BrainTrust

Providing time for employees to vote and educating them on the importance of voting is a great step. Retailers have a unique opportunity to reach a large portion of the younger demographics which have been continuing to decline at the voting booth over the last few decades. Taking this opportunity to reverse this trend is a long term investment in our country.

Tony Orlando
BrainTrust

My employees vote before work or after work, and if companies want to allow their employees to vote, that is fine with me.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Check out the history of Tuesday voting and you can’t help but wonder why we still have it.

I am all for the idea that national elections should be national holidays. It’s the most serious holiday on the calendar. Good for J.Crew. They are doing what every company should do

Short of that employers must give their employees time off to vote, help them register and, without being political, make sure the message for that day is about voting and not selling.

But just the idea that someone in a company says, “let’s make some money and make this a marketing opportunity” turns my stomach. At this time the only thing that they should be marketing is the value and privilege and the obligation we have as citizens.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Voting needs to rise above the status of an errand that is shoe-horned into the day before or after work. It’s kind of a big deal these days. And hopefully both the employer and employee see it that way. If the employer can offer PTO, that’s great. And if they can’t in this environment, that’s understandable. But hopefully the time can be made available in a low pressure way so that everybody can exercise this very important right.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

There are several measures of democracy in a country. One of the measures is how much of the electorate votes. The Economist Intelligence Unit measures it annually. The picture is not pretty for the U.S.

storewanderer
Guest
2 months 27 days ago

Yeah, we are definitely sliding here for sure. For example, I am afraid to put a Trump sign in my yard, for fear of my property being vandalized.

storewanderer
Guest
2 months 27 days ago
Wait — if we are all supposedly going to vote by mail, why is extra time off needed? The prospect of giving people an entire day off to vote sounds a little much given this is an activity that you generally prepare for beforehand (research the candidates so going to vote is simply a matter of checking the box). How many here have had to spend even 1 hour to physically go to vote? Seriously … let alone a whole day. I guess it is different where I live in NV. We have early voting for 2-3 weeks before the election set up from like 7 AM to 7 PM at many grocery stores (this year, they will just have ballot drop off boxes at those stores due to COVID), also and still this year actual early voting at the local libraries, one at the local University even. The most I’ve ever waited to vote was about 20 minutes and that was in a grocery store which I felt had limited voting machines (the store… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Old Navy’s actions stand out as laudatory — and perhaps practical too as I would imagine diminished traffic allows for slack in staffing. The other actions strike me as excessive (J.Crew) or overtly partisan (Starbucks).

As for marketing opportunities, I think many feel as I do: less “ridiculing the other side” would be welcome.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

My advice to my retail and restaurant clients is:

  1. Do everything you can to get your employees to vote;
  2. Stay out of what you think may be a marketing opportunity. You can not win no matter what approach you take;
  3. The same thing goes for merchandising opportunity unless you can figure out how to be nonpartisan.
Rachelle King
BrainTrust

Retailers should absolutely increase visibility and access to voting with both employees and customers. It’s likely not in their best interest to support or advocate for any specific candidate, but to simply provide resources for voter registration and time off for employees feels like table stakes. What if Walmart made it easy (and quick) for every customer to register to vote at checkout? This would completely change consumer engagement with the upcoming election.

Brands can join in too with encouraging consumers to vote and potentially offering nonpartisan merchandise to aid in voter awareness. The opportunity for brands and retailers is more about socializing the responsibility and importance of voting rather than engaging in politics. This can be done without drama. It’s also a worthy statement to make, especially for those retailers and brands who could not lend their voice during the peak of civil unrest.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

Retailers have a direct connection with individuals (citizens, staff, suppliers) and absolutely should use these relationships to encourage citizens to do their civic duty and cast their vote.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Retail companies should absolutely use their reputations and visibility to urge every citizen to make their voice heard."
"Giving time off is nice, but it should not turn into shaming of those businesses that cannot afford or do not want to do that."
"I am all for the idea that national elections should be national holidays. It’s the most serious holiday on the calendar."

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