The Politicization of Shopping
By George Anderson
A large number of consumers of various political, religious and philosophical persuasions are choosing merchants and products based on their perceptions about the companies’ stand on various issues.
According to an article on the BusinessWeek web site, the growing activism of consumers has made it critically important for businesses to have people and systems in place to deal with the next crisis issue.
Corporate communications strategist Arthur C. “Bud” Liebler says dealing with consumer activism is unavoidable. “There used to be a tendency by companies to ignore all [the attacks] and hope they’ll go away. Now you can’t ignore them because of all the Web sites, talk radio, and alternative newspapers.”
He cautions companies against believing they can come up with a response that will satisfy everyone. The goal when companies get into controversies, he said, should be “to do the least damage.”
Because of the impact that state and federal legislation can have on business operations, a growing number of companies are getting involved by financially contributing to political campaigns and political action committees (PAC).
Wendy’s, for example, has donated 93 percent of the chain’s political action committee’s contributions to Republicans over the last five years.
Company spokesperson Denny Lynch said that despite this it would be wrong to read an overt political agenda into Wendy’s actions. “We serve customers on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “We’re not a red company. If Democrats start winning, we’ll move our money to Democrats. It’s just business.”
Other companies, such as Costco, believe business should stay as far away from politics as possible.
Unlike others, Costco has not created its own PAC. Costco CEO Jim Sinegal said, “We don’t believe a public company should take shareholders’ money and support political candidates or causes.”
That doesn’t mean Mr. Sinegal is not politically active. He and Chairman Jeffrey Brotman are known as heavy contributors to the Democratic party. “We do it with our own money,” he said. “I’m a merchant, not a politician.”
Moderator’s Comment: Do you agree that the shopping environment has become more politicized in recent years? What
are the steps retailers and others need to take in dealing with crisis issues such as negative press, boycott activity, etc.? –
George Anderson – Moderator