Last April, Target adopted a new nationwide store policy — allowing customers to use any bathroom or changing room corresponding to their “gender identity” — subsequently sparking a huge controversy across the country. While large numbers of liberals and the LGBT community praised the department store chain for its progressive policy, many regular shoppers found the new policy troublesome, citing fears of predators entering the bathrooms which women and young girls used.
In response, conservative groups encouraged concerned families to boycott Target stores — and they did, in overwhelming numbers. The Christian non-profit organization American Family Association was among the groups leading protest, insisting that the policy was “exactly how sexual predators get access to their victims.” Boycotts affected Target’s southern region stores in particular, which already were struggling.
Since Target’s announcement last year, store sales have declined every quarter, leading to increasingly negative publicity. According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, for example, it was revealed that CEO Brian Cornell had never given the go-ahead to announce the new bathroom policy and that he later told colleagues he would have never advised the company trumpet the policy change, which Target officials did via blog post. While Cornell has since defended the policy publicly, the damage has already been done.
It is important to note, however, that many retailers, such as Walmart, have similar policies regarding bathroom use in their stores. The distinction? They don’t publicize these highly-controversial policies. By staying quiet, they accomplish two things: they manage to stay out of politics by not promoting any particular lifestyle, and they don’t upset anyone otherwise oblivious to store policies.
There is one key lesson other businesses should take away from Target’s mistake: stay away from politics, particularly issues that put your shoppers at risk.
Photo credit: Mike Mozart via Flickr, CC BY 2.0