In the wake of several controversial executive orders by President Trump, the political tensions in America seem to have reached a fever pitch, with new protests popping up around the country every day. With today’s 24-hour news cycle and a Twitter presidency, it’s both challenging and exhausting to keep track of the extraordinary activities of the president and his administration.
As Americans took to social media to respond to the news of Trump’s executive order on immigration, corporate statements on the policy spawned hashtags and calls to patronize some businesses and abandon others.
Big businesses have always enjoyed close relationships with Washington. But in this heated political climate, companies are increasingly voicing their opinions to the public, who also happen to be their customers. The political sharing — or oversharing, to some — can come at a cost, and it’s clear that consumers are paying attention.
When Lyft co-founders John Zimmer and Logan Green pledged to donate $1,000,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union over the next four years “to defend our Constitution,” many applauded the move, vowing to use Lyft. At the same time, using the hashtag #deleteUber, others promised to delete the Uber app after the ride-sharing giant announced it would suspend its “surge pricing” feature at JFK Airport at a time when protests over the immigration order were ongoing there. Rightly or wrongly, customers interpreted the move as an opportunistic attempt to attract business in the midst of political chaos. After the fallout, Uber announced its own financial commitment to support immigrants.
But that move may have come too late, as the company was flooded with deletion requests, and was forced to quickly develop an ad hoc method to remove the app.
Ride-sharing companies aren’t alone in voicing their opinions: Facebook, Apple, Amazon and a number of Silicon Valley businesses which value and rely on immigrants, made similar announcements. What effect these announcements have on consumers, however, vary greatly.
“I will not buy from stores that have political signs I do not agree with, especially in the climate we have right now,” says Michele Sanchez, a dental hygienist from Brooklyn, NY. “I won’t purchase certain brands if I know they donated money to Trump, like L.L. Bean. And I will not shop at Hobby Lobby or Chick-Fil-A because of their positions on social issues.”
While some dislike the politics, others want companies to speak up. Ben Zoll, a higher education administrator in Boston, says, “I used to not care if companies get involved with politics, but now I think it is important for them to stand up for what’s right in opposing Trump.”
Like the politics or not, companies which publicize their political positions risk alienating a portion of their customer base, who may or may not return.
“As a consumer, I care when companies speak up on political issues,” says Krista Leopold, an IT specialist in Hanahan, SC. “The tone, substance and severity of the comments will ultimately determine how I respond. I’m not always opposed to shopping at a company simply because their boards and CEOs hold differing political views. Far from it, I don’t think the entire world has to hold my point of view. But when the company goes so far as to purposely denigrate or demonize groups with whom they disagree, that’s when I take notice — and stop purchasing from the business.”
When Starbucks made its recent announcement that it would hire 10,000 refugees in the 75 countries where it has stores, it said that today’s uncertain times present an opportunity to “live its values.”
Some Americans questioned Starbucks’ values, suggesting that the company should hire veterans before refugees. But the company pointed out that it already has a program in place to hire veterans, and will give priority to refugees who have in the past worked as interpreters alongside U.S. troops overseas. The company is now accelerating its employment of veterans, to demonstrate its commitment to another politically important group.
It’s a delicate dance, and for some consumers, a company’s core values and its business practices are more important than politics.
“My political beliefs are tied to my moral beliefs,” says Maggie Furtak, a potter from Malden, Mass. “If I find out your business only employs people who can’t afford to quit, and then takes advantage of that fact in its scheduling, hourly wages, sick leave policy, or working conditions, to me that is political as well as moral.”
Others find navigating the politics of the commercial landscape too daunting. Jonathan La Mantia, a biologist in Wooster, Ohio, explains, “I’m willing to bet I’m ignorant to the political leanings or agendas of corporations and the causes they support. Does loving Starbucks mean I support big business over a small, independent one? I think it would drive me crazy trying not to be a hypocrite in some facet or another.”
Hear, hear. It is tough to know what businesses support and whether a company’s values match your own. Of course, in our modern era, if you want to know whether or not you’re supporting one of Trump’s businesses, there’s an app for that.
In an age where citizens and corporations are more and more outraged by national politics, it seems the days of consumers putting their heads in the sand may soon be a distant memory. As companies become more vocal about whom and what they support, price and quality may no longer be the driving factor in consumer decisions.
It’s a brave new world, where we know everything and nothing at the same time. How consumers spend their hard-earned dollars may be more meaningful than ever — if you’re paying attention.