Apparently boycotts can work, the retail giant Target found that out this month. It had to shut down new expansion projects largely in response to a long-standing boycott over its transgender policies.
Its stocks closed February 9 at $65, down from $83 last April. This accounts for $10 billion in lost revenue.
What happened? Its losses can be traced back to April 2016, when the retailer needlessly plunged into the national debate on gender.
On April 19, Target issued an announcement stating it would allow customers to use whatever bathroom or dressing room they gender-identified with. The statement, which can be found on the store’s website, reads:
“In our stores, we demonstrate our commitment to an inclusive experience in many ways. Most relevant for the conversations currently underway, we welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.”
This caused a conservative backlash. The American Family Association led a boycott among conservatives who feared it would open up myriads of predatory scenarios. CEO Brian Cornell insisted that safety was a priority at all of its stores. But it is unlikely this could be achieved. The American Family Association post a long list of documented abuses as a result of bathroom integration policies across the country.
Cornell furthered compared the bathroom policy debate to the battle for racial equality in the 1960’s. The implication, was of course, that people who believe gender is biologically determined are bigots, further offended its customers. Cornell received heat even from its shareholders and investors.
In the June shareholder meeting, a shareholder proposal was shot down to end its controversial stand. The proposal was led by Justin Danhof, General Counsel and Free Enterprise Project Director at The National Center for Public Policy Research. Danhof presented the proposal to the meeting.
“Target and its leaders are well within their Constitutional free speech rights to engage in legal and public policy debates,” Danhof stated. “However, when a decision to enter the political realm offends vast swaths of investors and consumers, stakeholders have a right to question the corporation’s decision-making process.”
He then asked Cornell point-blank about the implication of bigotry among its customers.
“Is it the company’s position that Americans who prefer to undress only near people of the same physical gender are bigots, the moral equivalent of racists? And second, since Target could have avoided most of this controversy, do you have any regrets about taking, as the financial analyst put it, “a hard-line stance” that, regardless of your intention, has made many Americans feel unwelcome at Target?”
Danhof stated that neither Cornell nor the leadership would answer directly. Danhoff concluded,
“If you are offended by Target’s decision to allow grown men to be in states of undress in front of young girls, and at the potential for predators to abuse Target’s bathroom policy, the company is basically saying that they don’t want your business.”
This debate over bathrooms continues to rage across the country, with other retailers declining to comment. Starbucks quietly solved the issue in their stores by making both of their one-stall bathrooms unisex. However, no one familiar with the ultra-liberal coffee giant doubts their position on the issue. They just dodged the bullet this time. Target received no such luck.
“We’re going to continue to embrace our belief in diversity and inclusion, just how important that is to our company. But we’re also going to make sure our focus on safety is unwavering,” Cornell told CNBC’s Squawk Box in May 2016.
He explained that each Target store would have family bathroom and changing options in all of its stores. This, however, would require freeing up valuable floor space, not entirely feasible.
So, instead, the inclusion policy remains that all should accommodate the few. Estimates state that at the very most, only 1 in 300 people are transgender. Other reports put the ratio as scarce as 1 in 2,400. This account for 0.04% of the population. Further, The Williams Institute, a pro-transgender advocacy group in Los Angeles found in a study that only 22% of Americans believe a person should be able to change their gender.
Target denies the bathroom boycott has anything to do with their lost revenue. It issued a statement reading in part, “At Target, we regularly pause to evaluate our business and have to make tough choices about where our company is best served to invest our time and resources. We recently made some changes to the innovation portfolio to refocus our efforts on supporting our core business, both in stores and online, and delivering against our strategic priorities. Target remains absolutely committed to pursuing what’s next. We see a tremendous opportunity to drive innovation in areas that will fuel our growth both in the short and long-term in areas such as digital, technology, supply chain and merchandising.”
In order to stay afloat, however, they did announce they would be pulling the plug on an innovative new project, called “The Store of the Future.” The new concept was supposed to be model on how brick and mortar retailers can be competitive in an online-shopping world.
The cutting edge store was supposed to be a mixture of store and warehouse. It would have smaller floor space, in more of a showroom setup. But, what makes it different than perhaps a furniture store, is that robots would be in an on-site warehouse fulfilling customer orders as they chose from showroom.
The design would also include lounge spaces for meeting rooms, and social gatherings. The plans further detailed state-of-the-art ways to integrate online and in person shopping.
The other projects that was nixed was called Goldfish, in which Target and other retailers would offer an open marketplace for customers to choose.
But, they had to get dirty and political, so now we’ll never know.